The Utah police department is making changes after video footage went viral of their officers wrongfully arresting a nurse for refusing to draw blood from an unconscious patient.
Following a high-speed police chase on July 26, a crash victim was admitted to the University of Utah Hospital burn unit in a coma. However, the victim was not a suspect in the wreck. The suspect the police had been chasing swerved into oncoming traffic to collide with a semi-truck which subsequently exploded, killing the suspect and severely injuring the driver of the semi and sending him to the burn unit. Regardless, several officers arrived demanding blood be drawn from the crash victim. Alex Wubbels, the nurse in charge of the burn unit, refused the request, citing hospital policy on drawing blood. Clearly outlined in her printout, the situation did not meet the criteria.
“I’m just trying to do what I’m supposed to do. That’s all,” Wubbels tells the officers in the body cam footage. She calmly informs them that they do not have a warrant, patient consent (the man was unconscious) nor were they arresting the patient. She even had her supervisors on the phone, whom she had consulted before voicing her refusal. The video shows Salt Lake police detective Jeff Payne walk quickly over to Wubbels, who backs away from his aggressive behavior as he loudly tells her, “We’re done here. We’re done. We’re done...You’re under arrest.”
Wubbels screams as Payne forces her out the door, and cries out, “I’ve done nothing wrong! I’ve done nothing wrong! Why is this happening? This is crazy!” and then “Help me!” as she is dragged into a police car. Payne left Wubbels in the hot police car for 20 minutes before realizing that blood had already been drawn as part of treatment. Wubbels was never booked or charged.
Salt Lake City police chief Mike Brown said he was “alarmed” by the footage and that an internal investigation has been launched. Payne was originally suspended from drawing blood but remained on duty as a detective in the investigations unit until public outrage seemed to force the department to place him on full administrative leave. He is a member of a select group of officers who are certified phlebotomists, who are called upon when a blood sample is required for a police investigation.
At the news conference Friday, Brown said that he was “sad at the rift this has caused between law enforcement and the nurses we work so closely with.” He went on to state: “To date, we have suspended the officer from the blood draw program. We have already replaced our blood draw policy with a new policy.”
However, Wubbels attorney, Karra Porter, said the university and Salt Lake City police had agreed to the policy more than a year ago and “the officers here appeared to be unaware of” it.
“There’s no dispute that the blood draw policy was jointly prepared and in effect for quite some time,” Porter told CNN. In additional body cam footage obtained through freedom of information requests, Payne can be heard discussing his other job as an ambulance driver, threatening to take all of the “good” patients to other hospitals as punishment for Wubbels’ behavior. According to Porter, Payne argued that he was allowed to take the blood through a process known as ‘implied consent,' but Wubbels pointed out that the law was changed years ago. Payne’s police report shows that his boss told him to arrest Wubbels if she kept interfering in their investigation.
Payne’s boss, Lieutenant James Tracey, who ordered Wubbels’ arrest, opens a whole other door in this incident. At one point in body cam footage, Tracey- who was serving as watch commander that night- spoke on the phone with Wubbels herself to convince her to allow them to draw blood. What’s rather disturbing about the additional footage is the way Tracey talks about how their method is the law, and by refusing them, Wubbels and the hospital are impeding an investigation. He implies that their officers’ word is the law and everyone must comply with their demands. But he doesn’t stop there. In his attempt to get the blood, he says, “Listen to me. If we’re doing wrong, there are civil remedies, ok? It’s called first reporting mistreating. If we took this blood illegally, it all goes away.” Essentially, Tracey is telling the staff to let Payne do something illegally, because if it is illegal, it won’t matter since it can be taken care of in court.
What the fuck is that? As if we didn’t have enough distrust of the police.
Police reports show that two officers have been placed on leave, but Tracey has not been publicly confirmed as the other cop.
Wubbels, a former alpine skier who competed in the 1998 and 2002 WInter Olympics, said she was grateful for the support from her supervisors and the hospital staff but disappointed she was left to defend herself with no help from university police or security.
“This cop bullied me. He bullied me to the utmost extreme, and nobody stood in his way. And that should have originally been the job of security and the university police,” Wubbels said. “And they decided that when they showed up, they didn’t want to play for my team, and so they essentially put on the other guys’ jerseys.”
Hospital officials have since apologized and announced policy changes to ensure their security will not allow events such as this to happen again. Kudos to Wubbels for protecting the crash victim, and her supervisors for siding with her on the phone, but that’s pretty much the only thing that was done right. The victim, William Gray, was not under any investigation and there was no reason to draw his blood. Speculation online has been that Payne was under pressure from Tracey to draw the blood to find anything they could use to blame the crash on Gray so the police wouldn’t be held liable. Given everyone’s conduct during the arrest, I wouldn’t be surprised. In fact, I’m hard pressed to find anyone defending these cops, so I’ll skip over all my accusations and move on to trying to find the silver lining.
I really want to believe it’s just a few bad apples in the force- there are assholes in every workplace. But the incidents making headlines time and time again convinces me otherwise. At least this time, it can’t simply be boiled down to racism. This isn’t to detract from that extremely important issue that needs to be addressed, but this particular event with Wubbels goes a long way to demonstrating that police seem to think they are above the law. They are supposed to be upholding the law and protecting citizens, not treating the regular public like enemy combatants. A huge thank you to Wubbels for releasing the videos, so we can have a national discussion about what is going on in police forces around the country. It’s the first step in trying to fix this problem.