SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The University of Utah hospital where a burn unit nurse was dragged out screaming and placed in handcuffs for explaining to a police detective that he needed a warrant to withdraw blood from an unconscious crash victim has announced that it has made changes to its police policies, including barring officers from being in patient areas and having direct contact with nurses.
University of Utah Hospital interim CEO Gordon Crabtree held a press conference on Monday, during which he praised nurse Alex Wubbels and decried her arrest as unacceptable.
“There’s absolutely no tolerance for that kind of behavior in our hospital,” Crabtree said of the actions of Salt Lake Police Detective Jeff Payne.
“[Wubbels] upheld hospital policy [and] patient privacy. She put her own safety at risk to ensure the safety and privacy of the patient. Her actions are nothing less than exemplary,” he said. “She was placed in an unfair and unwarranted position.”
Crabtree outlined that as “the buck stops here,” the hospital determined following the incident that police officers will no longer be allowed in patient areas and must now go to supervisors for their requests.
“The nurses who are caring for patients [will no longer] interact with law enforcement,” Chief Nursing Officer Margaret Pierce, who said she was “appalled” by how Wubbels was treated, also explained. “We have house supervisors who are highly skilled and highly trained, and the police officers will interact with those individuals who know all the rules and laws, and we can work those things out together.”
“We will never interact with the police department in a patient care area,” she added. “This is never acceptable, and if there’s a discussion or an issue, it needs to happen outside the patient care environment.”
Crabtree further noted that hospital security and university police should have stepped in to protect and support Wubbels, and introduced University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy, who apologized for the situation and advised that officers would be trained in situation de-escalation.
“We are … working with Chief Brophy and our university security officers to ensure that officers who are on duty at the hospital, first, that they understand that their primary duty is to advocate for and protect our patients and staff,” Crabtree outlined. “Second, that they have a duty to uphold and instill a confidence [in] those of the hospital that they serve.”
He said that it was hospital administrators who advocated for Wubbel’s release following her arrest, appearing both in person and calling the police department to plead on the nurse’s behalf. The intervention resulted in Wubbels being set free without charges.
View the press conference in full below.
As previously reported, on July 26, Utah Highway Patrol was involved in a chase with driver Marcos Torres, 26, in Cache County after he was reported for driving recklessly. Torres soon crossed into oncoming traffic and smashed into a semi head-on, which was driven by 43-year-old William Gray. The truck burst into flames.
While Torres died from his injuries on the scene, Gray, who works as a reserve police officer when not driving semis, was transported to University of Utah Hospital, where he was treated for severe burns.
Salt Lake Police Detective Jeff Payne later arrived at the hospital’s burn unit to request samples of Gray’s blood to determine if he had drugs in his system, as directed by another agency. However, on-duty nurse Alex Wubbels explained to Payne that he needed to meet one of three conditions as per the police department’s agreement with the hospital: 1) obtain consent from the patient 2) obtain a warrant or 3) the patient must be under arrest.
As Gray was not under arrest since he was the victim in the incident, and as he was in a comatose state and was therefore not able to give consent, Wubbels outlined to Payne that he would need to obtain an electronic warrant. She proceeded to contact numerous supervisors to ask what to do about the situation.
Becoming unhappy with her answers, Detective Payne repeatedly threatened that he was going to arrest Wubbels and take her to jail.
“I either go away with blood in vials or body in tow,” he warned.
With another staff member at her side to provide assistance, Wubbels soon printed out the hospital policy for blood draws and read it to Payne, advising him that he needs to meet one of the three conditions.
“This is something that you guys agreed to with this hospital,” she explained calmly.
Wubbels also placed one of the supervisors on speaker phone to talk to Payne about the matter himself.
“The patient can’t consent, he’s told me repeatedly that he doesn’t have a warrant, and the patient is not under arrest,” she explained to the supervisor. “I’m just trying to do what I’m supposed to do, that’s all.”
“So, I take it [that] without those in place, I’m not going to get blood. Am I fair to surmise that?” Payne asked.
The supervisor, who advised Wubbels that she was simply relaying the information, then asked Payne why he was “blaming the messenger,” and he replied that it was because she was the one who was denying his request.
The supervisor then warned Payne sternly, “Sir, you’re making a huge mistake because you’re threatening a nurse.”
“We’re done!” he declared, grabbing for Wubbels phone. “You’re under arrest!”
She backed away from the officer, but Payne continued to move toward Wubbels and within seconds, he physically grabbed the nurse and forced her out the door.
“Somebody help me! Stop! Stop! I did nothing wrong!” she exclaimed, screaming. “You’re assaulting me! Stop!”
Other hospital employees tried to reason with Payne, who handcuffed Wubbles, but to no avail.
“She’s under arrest,” Payne said.
“For doing her job?” the employee asked.
“I’ve done my job; she’s done hers,” Payne replied.
Wubbles was released 20 minutes later, and has not been charged with any crime.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Payne outlined in a report on the incident that he had been advised by Lt. James Tracy, the commander on duty that evening, to arrest Wubbles for interfering with a police investigation if she declined to allow him to take the blood sample. He said that he had been told that “implied consent” was sufficient.
PAYNE ON PAID ADMINISTRATIVE LEAVE
Detective Payne, along with another officer who has not been identified, has now been placed on paid administrative leave, and is also under a criminal investigation initiated by Salt Lake District Attorney Sam Gill.
The Salt Lake Police Department, as well as Mayor Jackie Biskupski, have decried Payne’s actions, holding their own joint press conference on Friday.
“What I saw is completely unacceptable to the values of my administration and of the values of the Salt Lake City Police Department,” Biskupski said. “I extend a personal apology to Ms. Wubbels for what she has been through for simply doing her job.”
“To date, we have suspended the officer from the blood draw program. We have already replaced our blood draw policy with a new policy,” also outlined Police Chief Mike Brown. “All remaining officers on the blood draw program have reviewed, and are operating under the new policy and protocol.”
The Rigby Police Department, for which crash victim Gray works as a reserve officer, expressed appreciation for Wubbels’ protection of Gray and noted that he was not under any suspicion of wrongdoing.
“The Rigby Police Department would like to thank the nurse involved and hospital staff for standing firm, and protecting Officer Gray’s rights as a patient and victim. Protecting the rights of others is truly a heroic act,” it said in an online statement.
“It is important to remember that Officer Gray is the victim in this horrible event, and that at no time was he under any suspicion of wrongdoing. As he continues to heal, we would ask that his family be given privacy, respect, and prayers for continued recovery and peace.”