SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The Utah nurse arrested when she refused to let police officers draw blood from an unconscious crash victim is considering legal action after the frightening encounter that lit up social media and provoked widespread outrage.
But Alex Wubbels — whose July 26 arrest, caught on body-camera video, prompted apologies from Salt Lake City’s mayor and police — says she is now focused on forging better working ties between police and health care workers. The nurse and her attorney, Karra Porter, appeared Monday on CNN’s “New Day” to discuss the confrontation and their options.
“Right now, I’m trying to re-educate. As officers and health care workers, we have to work together on behalf of our citizens, our friends, the people we live with,” Wubbels said. “If we’re going to have that dialogue and teamwork and camaraderie, we have to come to the table and have appropriate dialogue.”
Porter said there is a possibility of filing a lawsuit “if that becomes necessary” and cited several parties who could be involved: “the city, the officers, the university police, you know, there are quite a few.”
But, she said, “I think we’re going to give everyone involved an opportunity to do the right thing without having to be dragged into court to do it.”
Citing hospital policy, Wubbels refused to let officers draw blood from an unconscious crash victim who had been admitted to the University of Utah Hospital burn unit in a coma. Though the man was not a suspect in the wreck, which killed another 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 that before obtaining a blood sample, police needed a judge’s order or the patient’s consent, or the patient needed to be under arrest.
Porter noted Friday that 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.
After Wubbels’ refusal, the video shows police Detective 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 also asks why the officer is “so angry.”
Payne handcuffed Wubbels and placed her in the police car, where she sat for about 20 minutes, according to CNN affiliate KSL. She was later released without being charged. Payne and another officer have been placed on administrative leave pending the results of an investigation.
Wubbels was able to get her hands on the body cam video and was asked why it had been released weeks after the incident. She said she waited until she felt she was composed enough to talk about what happened.
“I feel pretty strongly in just having sort of a good strong ability to stand up without emotion. And I need to afford myself some time to feel OK and to be able to talk pragmatically about the situation without the emotion,” she said.
Wubbels said she had no idea how the situation escalated.
“What I can say is that I stood my ground. I stood for what was right, which was to protect the patient. As a nurse, any nurse, I think, would have done exactly what I did,” she said.
Did Wubbels get an explanation of why she was being arrested?
“Not to my knowledge,” she said. “I know that I was doing what … was right, what was offered to me by a policy that I trusted and I believed to be lawful.”
Wubbels said she was “scared to death” during the incident.
“Obviously, I was very frightened, and I think that since this has happened, I’ve been able to, sort of, surmise that I feel betrayed. I feel betrayed by the police officers. I feel betrayed by my university police and security.”
She said she asked hospital security for help “to have someone protect me because I felt unsafe from Officer Payne from the beginning,” she said. How did the university police and security respond?
“By just standing there, looking at their phones, telling me that they couldn’t protect me,” she said.
A tough month
Wubbels said she explained to Payne “that unless the patient was under arrest, I needed to have an electronic warrant, and there was no family, and the patient could not consent for himself. And I said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and he said, ‘You’re not sorry,’ and got very upset.”
She said Payne “was aggressive from the beginning.”
“My assessment skills led me to believe that Officer Payne was already agitated. He had already stormed off in disapproval that he couldn’t do this on the unit itself.”
Porter said there were no legal grounds for the arrest.
“He kept saying the patient has given implied consent essentially just by driving in Utah, but the law that the officer purported to be relying on clearly didn’t apply, because the officer admitted that there was no probable cause. Utah’s implied consent law specifically requires probably cause,” she said.
The past month has been tough for Wubbels.
“One of the reasons we went forward is we made sure that the body cam was available. We wanted to see what it was that was on there. We spoke with the Salt Lake City Police Department,” Wubbels said.
She got an apology from police but not from university security officials: the University of Utah Police and the Department of Public Safety, which provides security for the hospital. Last week, Wubbels said the lack of “forward progress” in meetings with university security spurred her to come forward this week with the body camera footage.
Police told her this should never have happened, Wubbels said.
“I agreed with that. We started making conversation about how to prevent this from ever happening again,” she said, referring to the Salt Lake City police.
“Unlike a conversation we had a week later with the university police and university security, who, after about a 45-minute conversation, still had not apologized. When I brought it up, (they) continued to defend their officers.
“And I just didn’t feel like that was appropriate.”