Utah police apologize after nurse arrested for refusing to draw blood from unconscious patient
Alex Wubbels says she followed protocol to protect the rights of a patient who couldn't speak for himself
A Utah nurse said she was scared to death when a police officer handcuffed and dragged her screaming from a hospital after she refused to allow a blood draw on an unconscious patient.
Alex Wubbels said the arrest captured on video that drew attention amid an ongoing conversation about police use of force shows that bullying doesn't just happen in schools.
"This cop bullied me; he bullied me to the utmost extreme," Wubbels said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press. "And nobody stood in his way."
The Salt Lake City police chief and mayor have apologized and changed department policies in line with the guidance Wubbels was adhering to in the July 26 incident.
She said she acted as any good nurse would, following her training and protocols to protect the rights of a patient who couldn't speak for himself.
"You can't just take blood if you don't have a legitimate concern for something to be tested," Wubbels said. "It is the most personal property, I think, that we can have besides our skin and bones and organs."
Salt Lake City police Det. Jeff Payne has been suspended from the department's blood-draw unit, but remains on duty as a detective in investigations amid reviews by the department and a civilian review board.
Police Chief Mike Brown said his department takes the matter very seriously. "I was alarmed by what I saw in the video with our officer," Brown said.
'You're under arrest!'
Body-camera video shows Wubbels, who works in the burn unit, calmly explaining that she could not take blood from a patient who had been injured in a deadly car accident, citing a recent change in law. A 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirmed that a blood sample cannot be taken without patient consent or a warrant.
Wubbels told Payne that a patient was required to give consent for a blood sample to determine intoxication or be under arrest.
Otherwise, she said police needed a warrant. Payne insisted.
The dispute ended with Payne saying, "We're done, you're under arrest" and physically moving her outside while she screamed and said, "I've done nothing wrong!" The department said the frustrated Payne had called his supervisor and that several people went back and forth about the time-sensitive blood draw for over an hour.
"It's not an excuse. It definitely doesn't forgive what happened," police spokesperson Christina Judd said.
Wubbels followed hospital policy and advice from her bosses when she told Payne that he could not get the blood sample without a warrant or consent from the patient, said her lawyer, Karra Porter.
The detective left Wubbels in a hot police car for 20 minutes before realizing that blood had already been drawn as part of treatment, her attorney said. She was not booked or charged.
"This has upended her worldview in a way. She just couldn't believe this could happen," Porter said.
Payne is among a group of officers who are certified phlebotomists, called upon regularly when a blood sample is required for a police investigation.
Payne could not be reached for comment. Messages for the Salt Lake Police Association union were not immediately returned.
Blood-draw policy updated
In response to the incident, Judd said the department updated its blood draw policy last week to mirror what the hospital staff uses. She said officers have already received additional training but that they are still sorting out the department's response since the law changed.
"We want to know where something went wrong, what we didn't know, and why we didn't know it," Judd said.
The agency has met with hospital administration to ensure it does not happen again and to repair their relationship.
"There's a strong bond between fire, police and nurses because they all work together to help save lives, and this caused an unfortunate rift that we are hoping to repair immediately," Judd said.
The hospital said it's proud of the way Wubbels handled the situation. The nurse's union National Nurses United called the arrest an outrageous act of violence.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports the patient was a reserve police officer from Idaho who was working his other job as a semi-truck driver when a car fleeing the Utah Highway Patrol crashed into him. The newspaper cites police reports saying Payne was trying to take the blood to clear him of any wrongdoing in the wreck.