By Amy Wang, Derek Hawkins
The videotaped arrest of a nurse at a Salt Lake City hospital - after she told police, correctly, that they weren't allowed to draw blood from an unconscious patient - has been roundly condemned by national nursing organisations, Utah officials and even the local police department.
The July 26 incident, captured by an officer's body camera, was made public last week after the nurse came forward. Since then, several groups have echoed the nurse's outrage, calling for greater consequences for the police detective in question and demanding increased awareness of patient-consent laws.
In the footage, Jeff Payne, a detective with the Salt Lake City Police Department, confronts Alex Wubbels, a nurse in the burn unit at the University of Utah Hospital, over her polite but firm insistence that police could not collect blood samples from a badly injured patient. Payne didn't have a warrant, Wubbels pointed out. And the patient wasn't conscious, so he couldn't give consent.
Wubbels cited hospital policy in the video - showing Payne a printout of the rules just before he abruptly arrests her - but her actions also were in line with a decision by the US Supreme Court, which explicitly ruled last year that blood can be drawn from drivers only for probable cause, with a warrant.
In the moment, none of that seemed to matter to Payne, who snapped, seized hold of Wubbels, shoved her out of the building and cuffed her hands behind her back. A bewildered Wubbels screamed "help me" and "you're assaulting me" as the detective forced her into an unmarked car and accused her of interfering with an investigation.
Wubbels, who was not criminally charged, played the footage at a news conference last Friday with her lawyer. They called on police to rethink their treatment of hospital workers and said they had not ruled out legal action.
"I just feel betrayed, I feel angry, I feel a lot of things," Wubbels said then. "And I'm still confused."
Judging by the overwhelming reaction to the video, which has since been widely shared, many agree with Wubbels.
The department said two of its employees had been placed on administrative leave, pending the results of an investigation, but did not give details. A criminal investigation is underway, according to Salt Lake County District Attorney Sam Gill, and the city's mayor and police chief apologised to Wubbels in a statement.
"What I saw is completely unacceptable to the values of my Administration and of the values of the Salt Lake City Police Department," Mayor Jackie Biskupski said. "I extend a personal apology to Ms Wubbles for what she has been through for simply doing her job."
However, the Salt Lake Tribune editorial board called for harsher consequences, saying the incident had raised "serious questions" about the city's police department and wondering why Payne had not been fired immediately.
"Unless the investigations turn up something that is not now apparent, it seems clear that Payne should already have lost his job, and that his certification to be a law enforcement officer should be permanently revoked," the board wrote.
"The fact that he was removed from the roll of officers who are allowed to take blood samples, but not placed on leave until the matter became public and a criminal investigation launched, can only serve to undermine public confidence in the whole department."
The Utah Nurses Association stated it was "deeply disturbed" by the video - and encouraged as many people as possible to view it to understand a nurse's "ethical duty to act in the best interest of our patients at all times and in all settings."
Nurses are bound by a code of ethics that dictates they must first promote the rights, health and safety of the patient, according to the American Nurses Association. By all measures, Wubbels followed that code.
"It is outrageous and unacceptable that a nurse should be treated in this way for following her professional duty to advocate on behalf of the patient as well as following the policies of her employer and the law," ANA President Pam Cipriano said. "Nurse Wubbels did everything right. It is imperative that law enforcement and nursing professionals respect each other and resolve conflicts through dialogue and due process."
Even if Payne believed he had "implied consent" to draw the patient's blood, it would not have applied under these circumstances, since Payne was trying to prove that the driver was not under the influence, criminal law professor Paul Cassell wrote in a guest piece for the Salt Lake Tribune.
"The ultimate requirement of our Constitution is that police must behave reasonably," Cassell wrote for the newspaper. "Handcuffing a nurse and throwing her into a squad car is, given all of the circumstances here, not reasonable - and, it turns out, was not ultimately supportable under Utah law."
The encounter started on July 26 when a suspect speeding away from police in a pickup truck on a Utah highway smashed head-on into a truck driver, as local media reported. Medics sedated the truck driver, who was severely burned, and took him to the University of Utah Hospital. He arrived in a comatose state, according to the Deseret News. The suspect died in the crash.
A neighbouring police department sent Payne, a trained police phlebotomist, to collect blood from the patient and check for illicit substances, as the Tribune reported. The goal was reportedly to protect the trucker, who was not suspected of a crime. Payne's lieutenant ordered him to arrest Wubbels if she refused to let him draw a sample, according to the Tribune.
Since the footage was made public, the unconscious patient has been identified as William Gray, a reserve officer with the Rigby Police Department in Idaho who is a full-time truck driver. That department said in a statement that it had not been aware of the incident until video of Wubbels's arrest went viral, and it praised the nurse for her actions.