Utah Nurse Arrested For Refusing To Draw Blood From Patient Without Warrant And Consent


The body camera video from a Salt Lake City police officer in an emergency room at University of Utah Hospital was rife with tension.

For almost 21 minutes, the video showed the officer, Jeff L. Payne, and a nurse, Alex Wubbels, locked in a battle of wills.

Officer Payne demanded that she draw blood from a sedated patient as part of an investigation into a car crash. Ms. Wubbels steadfastly said hospital policy did not allow it because it did not meet one of three criteria: The person was not under arrest, and the police had neither a warrant nor the patient’s consent. She said she had checked with several hospital administrators and managers who supported her position.

The officer continued to accuse Ms. Wubbels of interfering with a criminal investigation. “If I don’t get to get the blood, I’m taking her to jail,” he said, adding later: “I either go away with blood in vials or body in tow. That’s my only two choices.”

Ms. Wubbels put her boss, Brad Wiggins, on speakerphone and he told Officer Payne, “Sir, you’re making a huge mistake” by threatening a nurse. With that, Officer Payne said, “We’re done,” and moved to take Ms. Wubbels into custody.

She took a few steps back and screamed, “Somebody help me!” as Officer Payne pushed her through two sets of doors out of the emergency room and outdoors, twisted her so she was partly facing a wall and placed her in handcuffs.

Excerpts from the video, which came to light at a news conference by Ms. Wubbels and her lawyer on Thursday, gained widespread attention.

The video led to apologies from the mayor of Salt Lake City, Jackie Biskupski, and the police chief, Mike Brown, on Friday and an outpouring of support for Ms. Wubbels, 41. Investigations by the Police Department’s Internal Affairs unit and the city’s Civilian Review Board are also underway, the mayor said in a statement.

“These are officers of the peace,” Ms. Wubbels said in an interview on Friday. “There was nothing peaceful about this incident.”

The episode unfolded on July 26 as the Salt Lake City police were helping another police department in an investigation of a driver who had crashed into another vehicle while fleeing the police. The fleeing driver was killed, according to a report filed by Officer Payne, and the other driver was flown to Utah Hospital.

Officer Payne wrote that he was seeking to draw blood from the patient to check if he had “any chemical substances in his system at the time of the crash,” though it was not clear why.

He wrote that he spoke with Ms. Wubbels, who was the nurse in charge in the burn unit, and tried to explain the “exigent circumstances” of the request.

The confrontation intensified as they headed to the emergency room from the burn unit upstairs.

“I’m just being told what to do by my entire hospital,” she said, referring to her administrators.

Officer Payne responded, “And I’m being told what to do by my boss, and I’m going to do what my boss says.”

Officer Payne could not be reached on Friday. Chief Brown said in a statement on Friday that he was alarmed by the video.

“I want to be clear, we take this very seriously,” he said, adding, “Within 24 hours of this incident, Salt Lake City Police Department took steps to ensure this will never happen again.”

The chief said that Officer Payne had been suspended from the blood draw program, in which officers are trained as phlebotomists to take blood samples, and that a new policy had been put in place. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Officer Payne remained on duty with the Police Department.

Ms. Wubbels, a nurse at the hospital since 2009, said she was adhering to hospital policies and the law. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that the police do not have the right to draw blood in drunken-driving investigations without a warrant.

“It wasn’t like she decided she was a constitutional scholar,” her lawyer, Karra J. Porter, said in an interview on Friday.

No charges were filed against Ms. Wubbels, who was in handcuffs for about 20 minutes before being released. Ms. Wubbels said she wanted to use the episode to educate medical professionals and the police and to “open a civic dialogue.”

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