The nurse was clearly in the right, but she was arrested anyway.
On July 26, 43-year-old William Gray was driving a tractor-trailer near Sardine Canyon in Utah when a pickup truck fleeing police crashed into him head-on. That pickup was being driven by 26-year-old Marcos Torres, who died on the scene.
Gray survived the collision and according to police was on fire when he exited his truck. The violent crash was recorded on the dashboard camera of a Utah Highway Patrol car:
Gray was taken to University Hospital in Salt Lake City, and he had fallen unconscious. At the hospital, Salt Lake City Police arrived seeking to obtain a blood sample from Gray.
Nurse Alex Wubbels, (who happens to be a two-time Olympic skier, under her maiden name) informed police that by law, a blood sample cannot be taken from an unconscious person because that person is unable to give consent.
The only legal way for police to obtain a sample from a non-consenting individual is if the person is under arrest, or if the police have a warrant authorizing the drawing.
Police on the scene acknowledged that neither of those conditions had been met, yet Detective Jeff Payne still insisted he had the authority to draw a sample. The exchange was caught on Payne’s body camera.
In the video, Wubbels can be seen calmly explaining the details of a document that the police department and hospital had agreed upon on the issue of obtaining blood samples from patients. Wubbels is also on speaker phone with a man, presumably a hospital official:
Wubbels: So, I have the agreement. It says, “Obtaining blood samples for police enforcement from patients suspected to be under the influence.” This is something you guys agreed to with this hospital. The three things that allow us to do that are if you have an electronic warrant, patient consent, or patient under arrest, and neither of those things–The patient can consent, [the officer] told me repeatedly he doesn’t have a warrant, and the patient is not under arrest. So I’m just trying to do what I’m supposed to do. That’s all.
Payne: K. So I take it without those in place, I’m not going to get blood? Am I fair to surmise that?
Man on phone: Why are you blaming the messenger, sir?
Payne: She’s the one that has told me “No.”
Man on phone: Yeah, but sir you’re making a huge mistake right now. Like, you’re making a huge mistake because you’re threatening a nurse.
Payne: We’re done. You’re under arrest. You’re going. We’re done! We’re done! I said we’re done!
Aside from the fact that Wubbels was obviously in the right, three things stand out. The first is that the patient at no point appears to have been suspected of drunk driving. Indeed, he was the one who was crashed into by a man in a pickup fleeing police. Why the police sought his blood is unclear.
The second thing is Payne’s response to the man on the phone asking why he’s blaming the messenger: “She’s the one that has told me ‘No.'” Well, yes. Because you’re wrong, as the agreement she just read clearly indicates. Additionally, in 2016, the United States Supreme Court ruled that while police may conduct warrantless breathalyzer tests pursuant to incidents of suspected drunk driving, they may not conduct warrantless blood tests because their intrusive nature.
The third thing is the viciousness with which Payne arrests Wubbels, repeatedly screaming, “We’re done!” Aside from being very, very wrong, Payne’s borderline violent behavior toward a nurse who was quite simply doing her job and following the agreement that Payne’s own department had signed off on is quite disturbing. It is not indicative of a professional law enforcement officer. It isn’t even indicative of someone who has a whole lot self-control.
For some reason, Payne remains on duty with the department, along with Lt. James Tracy, who advised Payne to arrest Wubbels. It is unclear if Wubbels has filed a lawsuit against the Salt Lake City Police Department.