After nurse’s arrest, Utah lawmakers will draft a bill that clarifies when police can draw someone’s blood

Alex Wubbels, seen here in various images from police body cam video, was arrested after explaining to police that she couldn't draw a blood sample from an unconscious person at University Hospital. A Salt Lake City police detective asked for a blood sample. After explaining to the detective that the police needed a warrant, consent from the unconscious patient or that the patient needed to be under arrest before the blood sample could be drawn, she was arrested.

Members of the Utah Legislature’s Judiciary Interim Committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to draft a bill that will clarify when police may — and may not — draw blood without a driver’s consent.

“This is an important issue,” said Rep. Craig Hall, a West Valley City Republican who is sponsoring the legislation. “I think that it will help medical facilities, help law enforcement if we can all get on the same page as to when it’s appropriate to take blood [and] when it’s not appropriate to take blood. I think it will serve everybody well.”

The bill is a response to the July 26 arrest of University Hospital nurse Alex Wubbels by Salt Lake City police Detective Jeff Payne, who claimed she was interfering in an investigation by refusing to let him get a blood sample from an unconscious patient. The arrest drew widespread condemnation after Wubbels’ attorney released body camera footage of the encounter on Aug. 31.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, noting that consent for blood draws has become a state and national issue, said the bill should be a priority.

“It important for us to show the public that when there is a high-profile incident like this that really outraged a lot of people, including myself, that we’re addressing that,” Weiler said.

Committee members hope to have a draft of the bill ready to review by November. The legislative session begins in January.

Wubbels’ attorney, Karra Porter, said Wednesday that she is not opposed to legislation on the issue but that “the law already clearly prohibits what the officers were doing and that didn’t stop them.”

(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.

Payne and Lt. James Tracy, who was the detective’s watch commander on July 26 and ordered the arrest, were placed on administrative leave the day after the footage was released.

An internal affairs investigation and a review by the city’s independent Police Civilian Review Board recently found both officers violated department policies. Chief Mike Brown will use the reports to make a decision on whether they will be disciplined or potentially fired.

A criminal investigation of the episode by the Unified Police Department, FBI and Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office is ongoing.

Attorney Greg Skordas, who represents Payne, said he and his client are scheduled to meet Monday with Brown to explain the detective’s side of the story.

Skordas said he and his client take issue with some of the conclusions of the internal affairs report, which says Payne violated six department policies. He did not specify what portions he did not agree with.

Payne is “truly sorry” for his actions, according to Skordas.

“Jeff recognizes he could have and should have done things differently,” he said.

The patient at the center of the confrontation, 43-year-old William Gray, was injured in a fiery crash July 26 while driving a semi truck in northern Utah. A man in a pickup truck who was fleeing from the Utah Highway Patrol crashed head-on into Gray’s semi on U.S. 89/91 near Sardine Canyon, according to Logan police, who investigated the collision.

The crash caused an explosion and fire, police said, and the driver of the pickup, Marcos Torres, died at the scene. Gray was taken to University Hospital and placed in the burn unit. Payne arrived a few hours later to get a blood sample at the request of Logan police, but Wubbels told him repeatedly that hospital policy barred a draw unless the patient is under arrest, there is a warrant allowing the draw or the patient consents.

Payne insisted he had implied consent to get the blood and eventually arrested Wubbels. He handcuffed her and placed her in a police car outside the hospital, then released her after about 20 minutes. Charges were never filed against the nurse.

Under Utah law, motorists are considered to have given implied consent to tests to determine their blood alcohol level, but an officer must have reasonable grounds to believe they were driving under the influence.

Skordas, however, has said a federal regulation requires a blood sample when a driver with a commercial driver license (CDL) is involved in a fatal accident, and that by getting a CDL, a driver is assumed to have consented to a blood draw. Gray, who is a full-time truck driver, has a CDL.

Gray was severely burned on 46 percent of his body and is in critical condition, Jennifer Stamper, a spokesperson for his family, said Wednesday. She said two accounts have been set up to help with medical and recovery expenses — a GoFundMe account and the William Gray Fund at Zion’s Bank, 149 W. Main St., Rexburg, ID 83440.

Stamper said in a news release that Gray’s wife is grateful to Wubbels for protecting her husband and appreciative of the hospital medical staff and the police officers who assisted at the accident site.

In addition, April Gray “wants the other driver’s family to know she is saddened for their loss,” Stamper said.