SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – Salt Lake City police apologized Friday for arresting a nurse who, citing hospital policy, refused to let officers draw blood from an unconscious crash victim. The arrest of Alex Wubbels, who was later released without charge, was captured on body camera video that the police chief said was alarming.
The incident happened July 26, when a crash victim was admitted to the University of Utah Hospital burn unit in a coma. Though the man was not a suspect in the wreck, which killed the other driver, police asked for his blood to be drawn.
Wubbels, the charge nurse in the burn unit, presented the officers with a printout of hospital policy on drawing blood and said their request did not meet the criteria. Hospital policy specified police needed either a judge’s order or the patient’s consent, or the patient needed to be under arrest, before obtaining a blood sample.
“I’m just trying to do what I’m supposed to do. That’s all,” Wubbels tells the officers, according to the body camera video.
Wubbels’ attorney, Karra Porter, said Friday 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.
After Wubbels refuses, the video shows Salt Lake police Det. Jeff Payne walk quickly over to Wubbels, who backs away as he says, “Oh, please. We’re done here. We’re done. We’re done.”
Wubbels shrieks as Payne forces her out the door toward a police car. She screams for him to stop, saying, “I’ve done nothing wrong! I’ve done nothing wrong! Why is this happening? This is crazy!”
She asks out loud why the officer is “so angry.”
Payne handcuffed Wubbels and placed her in the police car, where she sat for about 20 minutes. She was later released without a charge.
“I was alarmed by what I saw in the video with our officer and Ms. (Wubbels),” Salt Lake City police Chief Mike Brown said in a news conference Friday. “I am sad at the rift this has caused between law enforcement and the nurses we work so closely with.”
The department opened an internal affairs investigation, he said, and Friday evening the police department said Payne and another “employee” were placed on full administrative leave as a result of a criminal investigation into the incident. The department said the second person was an officer, but did not identify that officer.
The officer’s account
In a police report, Payne said that when he arrived to the hospital, Wubbels said he needed to get permission from the hospital administrators.
After more than an hour of waiting, Payne said, he called his supervisor who advised him to arrest Wubbels if she refused to let him draw a blood sample.
“I told them we wanted to blood sample to protect him, not punish him,” he wrote.
An after-hours message left with the Salt Lake Police Association, the union representing officers, regarding Payne’s status was not immediately returned.
Brown said the department has apologized and that its “blood draw policy” has been replaced with a new one that officers are now using.
His statement did not mention the policy that was in place at the time of Wubbels’ arrest or why police would need a new one.
The crash victim
The truck-driver victim of the crash was William Gray, a reserve officer with the police department in Rigby, Idaho, the department said in a statement Friday.
He was working his regular job as a truck driver when a suspect fleeing from the Utah State Highway Patrol crossed into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with Gray’s truck, Rigby police said.
The department said it learned of the incident with Wubbels on Thursday and was grateful for her actions.
“The Rigby Police Department would like to thank the nurse involved and hospital staff for standing firm, and protecting Officer Gray’s rights as a patient and victim,” it said. “Protecting the rights of others is truly a heroic act.”
Rigby police said they hope the incident will be investigated thoroughly and “appropriate action” will be taken.
“It is important to remember that Officer Gray is the victim in this horrible event, and that at no time was he under any suspicion of wrongdoing,” the statement said, adding that Gray “continues to heal.”
Why nurse came forward
Since the incident, Wubbels and her attorney said they have met with the city and police department to encourage them to reeducate their officers about the policy.
But Porter said they were not encouraged by their discussions with the University of Utah police and the Department of Public Safety, which provides security for the hospital. Officers from both departments were present for the arrest and did nothing to stop it, she said.
Wubbels said the lack of “forward progress” they felt in those meetings spurred them to come forward this week with the body camera footage.
“I felt obligated to release it on behalf of anyone that’s ever gone through something like this” but didn’t have evidence or video, Wubbels told CNN. “Just being bullied by police for any particular reason in a health care setting.”
Wubbels also said she hopes to raise awareness of the policy.
“This should never have happened and it should not happen again,” she told CNN. “We have to have a conversation and a discussion.”
Wubbels said she received calls from the mayor and police chief to apologize and felt they were sincere.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski called the actions of the officers “completely unacceptable” and apologized to Wubbels.
“It was not necessary, and that’s what we are here to say and we are truly apologetic,” the mayor said at a news conference Friday.