Police Officer Arrest of Utah Nurse Alex Wubbels: Lessons for All of Us

First you have to watch the video of what happened in a Utah emergency room on July 26, 2017.  The video shows what happens after Salt Lake City Detective Jeff Payne demands a blood sample from patient William Gray.

Blood Sample Not From Suspect

Seems Mr. Gray was being given medical treatment at the hospital after being injured in a traffic accident caused by a police suspect named Marcos Torres.

Note that Mr. Torres was the person suspected of wrongdoing.  Not Mr. Gray, who was involved in this story only because he had the bad luck to be in the vehicle that was slammed by Mr. Torres’ truck during a police chase.

Nurse Says No to Blood Sample; She’s Arrested

The burn unit nurse will not agree to take blood from her patient.  She checks with her superiors, and has them on speakerphone; you can hear a male voice explaining the hospital’s position to the police detective.  The man clearly states “you are making a mistake.”

The nurse goes through the bases for taking a blood sample and points out that the police don’t have any of the three.  She tells him that hospital policy allows her to take the unconscious patient’s blood if (1) he consents; (2) he is under arrest; or (3) the police have a warrant.

Result:  the police detective ARRESTS the nurse for not taking blood from the accident victim who was hit in the chase involving the police and their suspect.

It’s unbelievable.  It’s real.  Every citizen of this country needs to see this 19’22” video:

 

Shocking Disrespect of the Individual

First lesson: the attitude of the police toward the citizens.  Listen to the police detective’s tone.  Listen to his words.  He says things like:

“I either go away with blood vials or body in tow.”

He does things like grabbing the nurse and pinning her arms behind her back in order to move her physically out of the emergency room.  The woman is screaming for help.  She’s a NURSE.  She’s not accused of any crime – except not doing what the officer has commanded her to do.

Shocking Disregard for the Law

Second lesson: the police officer’s lack of knowledge of search and seizure law.  Or, some could argue that he knows the law and isn’t being prudent.

In the video, you can hear the police detective say that he “… doing what I’m being told by my boss, and I’m going to do what my boss says.”

The detective should know the basic law of when he can take blood samples without a search warrant.  That’s basic stuff.  He’s not explaining his position here.  He’s demanding things go his way.

And he’s a “certified phlebotomist,” which is the police expert trained to take blood samples in law enforcement investigations.   This isn’t his first rodeo.

Moreover, he doesn’t ask for the administrator guy who is on the phone, or anyone else who is a Power-That-Be.

He arrests the nurse.  Does the nurse act as the duly authorized representative for the hospital insofar as its policy on blood?  If he wanted to arrest someone for failing to allow the blood sample based upon hospital policy, then was she the right person to hold responsible?

And, there’s so much that can be said for his passing the buck to his “boss” as he tries to bully his way through the situation.  None of it is good.

Search Warrants for Blood Draws

It’s well established that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has held that blood samples must have a search warrant.  Blood is a big deal.  See, e.g., More Texas DWI Convictions Will Be Overturned Because of Warrantless Blood Draws.

Exigent Circumstances

Now, the police detective (or his lawyer) may have an argument here:  the exception of “exigent circumstances.”  If there is the risk of evidence disappearing, then there will not be time to get a search warrant.

In these situations, the police have an exception to the rule and can get a blood sample without the warrant.  That’s because the alcohol in the blood will vanish and they may not be able to test for the BAC (blood alcohol concentration) if too much time passes.

But would this apply in the circumstance where the person is not suspected of any crime?  If he was a crime victim, then would the “exigent circumstances” exception apply to his blood?

Body Cameras on Police Officers

Another lesson: the power of having law enforcement wearing body cameras.  This video was captured by the police detective’s own bodycam.

From this new technology, you can witness for yourself what happened that day in the University of Utah Hospital.  Listen for yourself as nurse Alex Wubbels cries out as the detective handcuffs her:

“I’ve done nothing wrong!

“Why is this happening?

“This is crazy!

“Why is he so angry?!!!”

Would we know anything about this event without that body camera?  These body cameras, like dash cams, are vital in discovering police misconduct and excessive force.

It’s scary to think how often these kinds of altercations take place where there isn’t a camera filming what is happening.

For more on excessive force by the police, see:

End Result

The nurse never left the parking lot.  The detective left her sitting in the squad car for a while and then released her after discovering that the blood sample had been taken as part of the crash victim’s treatment.

Today, the Salt Lake City Tribune reports that the detective has been terminated.

And now, we all need to be discussing the reality that this reveals – and that those who work inside the criminal justice system know all too well:  the police use excessive force all too often, and the police often have a disrespectful and distrustful attitude toward citizens.

She was a nurse in a burn unit caring for a severely injured crime victim.

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For more information, check out our web resources, read Michael Lowe’s Case Results, and read his in-depth article,” Pre-Arrest Criminal Investigations.”

 

 

 

 

 


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