Salt Lake district attorney asks FBI to investigate confrontation between cop and nurse for potential civil-rights violations

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Attorney Kara Porter, left, holds a press conference Thursday August 31 to show previously undisclosed footage of a Salt Lake City police officer assaulting and arresting University of Utah Hospital on-duty nurse Alex Wubbels for following her hospital’s policy on blood draws from an unconscious victim. Wubbels was upset at watching her arrest on the video for following the law and procedures of the hospital.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, as part of its review of the circumstances of the arrest of a University Hospital nurse by a Salt Lake City police officer, has asked the FBI to investigate the case for any potential civil rights violations.

On July 26, SLCPD Detective Jeff Payne arrested nurse Alex Wubbels during a dispute over getting blood without a warrant from the unconscious victim of a fiery crash.

An FBI news release issued Thursday said the bureau has agreed to provide assistance and already had been looking into possible federal law violations.

“The FBI opened a civil rights/color of law review of the matter when we found out about it in the media,” the release says.

Color of law crimes are acts done by officials — such as use of excessive force or police misconduct — that go beyond their lawful authority and willfully deprive a person of a right protected by the Constitution or federal law.

District Attorney Sim Gill announced last week he wanted a criminal investigation into the episode, and Salt Lake City officials said the Unified Police Department would conduct the probe. On Thursday, he said the investigation into possible violations of state law will continue.

“This is really to be thorough,” Gill said of his request to FBI Special Agent Eric Barnhart, who heads the bureau’s Salt Lake City Division.

Gill said in a news release he is asking “our federal law enforcement partners to fully vet issues only they can investigate.” He said the decision to request assistance was made over the Labor Day weekend and a formal letter was sent to Barnhart on Wednesday.

“The District Attorney’s office has received multiple inquires and communications concerning the incident,” Gill added in the release. “We ask the community and our citizens to be patient. We assure them that this issue is of the utmost concern for us and we are committed to assuring a thorough, fair gathering and review of evidence, facts and issues.”

The letter asks the FBI “to examine and consider whether actions by Det. Payne, other police officers and law enforcement personnel and anyone else acting under the color of authority constitutes criminal conduct, criminal civil rights violations, or other violations of law.”

Gill’s letter adds: “It is essential that all individuals and institutions associated with this incident should be investigated to document the roles they played in the incident to prevent such a thing from happening again. Our community and its citizens deserve nothing less.”

Payne has been placed on administrative leave and also is the subject of a police internal affairs investigation and a civilian review board.