Nurse arrest fallout: Utah legislator pitches clarification to blood-draw law, lawyer worries it’s not enough

Alex Wubbels’ arrest has already spurred changes at the University of Utah.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Attorney Karra Porter speaks during a Judiciary Interim Committee Wednesday, November 15, 2017.

As the Utah Legislature on Wednesday considered clarifying when police can draw blood from a suspect, an attorney urged more protection for medical staff like the nurse arrested earlier this year at University Hospital.

“Overall, I think the bill is helpful and will make it easier for law enforcement to train,” attorney Karra Porter said at a Judiciary Interim Committee meeting on Wednesday.

But, she said, she wants the law to grant immunity to medical staff who refuse to participate with a blood draw if the patient hasn’t given consent but police have a warrant to take a blood sample.

Porter represented University Hospital nurse Alex Wubbels after she was arrested on July 26. Wubbels refused to let Salt Lake City police Detective Jeff Payne get a blood sample from an unconscious patient. The episode sparked nationwide outrage when Porter released body camera footage of the arrest on Aug. 31.

(Salt Lake City Police Department/Courtesy of Karra Porter) In this July 26, 2017, frame grab from video taken from a police body camera and provided by attorney Karra Porter, nurse Alex Wubbels is arrested by a Salt Lake City police officer at University Hospital in Salt Lake City. The Utah police department is making changes after the officer dragged Wubbels out of the hospital in handcuffs when she refused to allow blood to be drawn from an unconscious patient.

The way the amendment is worded now, Porter said, if someone questions a peace officer or refuses to participate in the blood draw, he or she could still be arrested.

Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, who sponsored the legislation, said he would consider tackling the immunity concern, but if he does, he wouldn’t add it to this particular amendment.

“That’s not a real subject of my particular bill, but that’s something that I would be interested in investigating,” Hall said.

The focus of Hall’s blood-testing amendment is to clarify that a law enforcement officer would need a warrant or consent from the individual in question before taking a blood draw.

“Many things went wrong [in the arrest] and I believe this bill would have prevented what happened,” Hall said at Wednesday’s committee meeting, where he unveiled the draft of his blood-draw bill.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) l-r Attorney J. D. Lauritzen, William J. Hansen, Alex Wubbels and her Attorney Karra Porter, right, said at a Tuesday news conference that nurse Alex Wubbels, has settled with Salt Lake City and the University of Utah for a sum of $500,000 and that Wubbels plans to set up a program to provide funds to the public seeking police body cam footage. Wubbels was arrested July 26 after she refused to allow Salt Lake City Detective Jeff Payne draw blood from an unconscious patient involved in a fiery crash in Cache County earlier in the day. The arrest drew widespread condemnation after Porter released police body camera and hospital security footage of the encounter on Aug. 31.

In July, Wubbels had refused to comply with Payne’s orders because he didn’t have a warrant.

The bill doesn’t change the law, and the law was clear to begin with, said Porter.

But, she supports the bill because it consolidates statutes and helps law enforcement better train officers, she said. Officers don’t frequently train on case law,

Wubbels is to receive a $500,000 settlement from Salt Lake City and the University of Utah. The University of Utah hospital also modified its procedures and announced it would retrain staff regarding interacting with law enforcement.

Hospital policy already didn’t allow the blood draw Wubbels was arrested over. Payne had arrived at the hospital after a crash that severely burned 43-year-old William Gray, a full-time truck driver and a part-time reserve officer with the Rigby, Idaho, police department.

At the request of Logan police, Payne attempted to draw blood from Gray, insisting he had implied consent to get the sample. Wubbels repeatedly told him that hospital policy didn’t allow it, and Payne eventually arrested her.

Charges were never filed against her. Police Chief Mike Brown fired Payne and demoted the detective’s supervisor, Lt. James Tracy, to the rank of officer. Both men have appealed the decisions.