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Utah nurse’s arrest brings controversy

by SARA LATTMAN

Alex Wubbels, a nurse in Salt Lake City, was forcefully arrested after refusing to draw blood from an unconscious patient on July 26. She spent 20 minutes in the back of a cop car until she was released without charges. Wubbels is considering taking legal action, but wants to give the parties involved a chance to do the right thing in their responses. After viewing video footage of the arrest, consisting of a temperamental officer violently shoving Wubbels into handcuffs, this is a generous offer on Wubbels’ part.

What Happened?

After a car accident, the patient was admitted into the University of Utah Hospital burn unit. Detective Jeff Payne requested that blood be drawn from the unconscious patient and given to the police to be put through testing. Wubbels, in a calm manner, turned them down, letting Payne know the hospital’s policies on giving blood to authorities. As Payne continued to badger the nurse, Wubbels continued to follow protocol, something that caused her to be placed under arrest with no legal grounds.

Along with having no right to arrest Wubbels, Officer Payne was hostile throughout the interaction. Wubbels told CNN that the detective “was aggressive from the beginning” and did not seem to think the nurse was giving him correct information. She also mentioned that she felt betrayed by the university police, as they responded by “standing there, looking at their phones, telling me that they couldn’t protect me” throughout the entirety of the hostile confrontation.

What were the hospitals policies?

Following the request of Payne, the initial reaction of Wubbels was to explain the hospital regulations on drawing blood for police. She printed out the sheet and explained that without a warrant, the patient’s consent or the patient being under arrest, she could not supply the blood sample. The officers investigating the crash had none of these, and no opportunity to get them. This is because the patient could not give his consent and the officer had no probable cause against him in order to justify a warrant or an arrest.

“This scenario is appalling and it is clear that the nurse was at no point breaking any law,” said Molly Clay ‘18, a current nurse. “This particular nurse acted in a way any nurse should: in compliance with the nursing standards of care. A nurse is required to act as a patient advocate, meaning that they must protect their patients’ rights. It is unfair and just plain wrong to persecute this nurse for adhering to hospital policy.”

Why is this so unlawful?

Putting the unnecessary violence aside, the detective was also attempting to violate a Supreme Court ruled decision. In June 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that police officers must have a warrant in order to test the blood of someone they suspect may have been driving under the influence. In order to obtain this warrant, probable cause to test the patient’s blood is needed, which Payne admitted he did not have. Since Payne had no right to the blood test, the “refusal to comply with law enforcement” that he claimed he was arresting Wubbels for was invalid.

What were the responses?

Fortunately, Wubbels received well-earned praises from hospital officials for sticking up for what she believed to be right, saying that they were “proud of her decision to focus first and foremost on the care and well-being of her patient.” In addition, apologies were given from the police department. She also received support from the chief of the New York Police Department and homeland security at Georgian Court University, saying that Wubbles acted as an “absolute professional,” according to the New York Times.

What now?

Wubbels is considering a civil lawsuit, but does not want to jump into the complications of court just yet. She has stated that her primary goal now is to educate medical professionals and law enforcement on “opening a civic dialogue.” According to NBC, the hospital has also announced changes to protocol with staff and their interaction with law enforcement, so nurses will not have to deal with them directly. Detective Payne has been placed on administrative leave while the Salt Lake City Police Department conducts a criminal investigation.

Payne’s actions contribute to the ongoing issue of police hostility going on in the country. Through social media, we see videos of people interacting with cops everyday, most of them being shared for negative reasons, and this situation fuels the fire. While police officers do have authority, we can see that some of them take that authority too far and act violently, even if they have no reason to do so. Payne arresting someone unlawfully just because she was not giving him what he wanted affects the image of all police officers negatively. Having a false sense of authority where cops do not think they need to follow the law has become common in recent years. Hopefully, this story will help the colleagues of Payne and other cops understand that taking a moment to think rationally and about the parameters of your job instead of acting hostile will help solve this issue.

Sara Lattman can be reached at sara.lattman@spartans.ut.edu

 

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