SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah Hospital nurse who 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 agreed to a $500,000 payment from Salt Lake City and the University of Utah to settle the matter.
“There will be no lawsuit,” Karra Porter, attorney for nurse Alex Wubbels told reporters on Tuesday.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Wubbels will use part of the money to provide legal help to others seeking to obtain body camera footage of incidents such as hers, and will also donate some of the settlement payment to the Utah Nurses Association. She will additionally help to lead a campaign to stop nurse abuse in America.
“We all deserve to know the truth and the truth comes when you see the actual raw footage and that’s what happened in my case,” she said during the news conference. “No matter how truthful I was in telling my story, it was nothing compared to what people saw and the visceral reaction people experienced when watching the footage of the experience that I went through.”
As previously reported, the matter began on on July 26, as 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 was not 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.
However, on Oct. 10, Salt Lake City Police Chief Michael Brown fired Payne, and Tracy was also demoted from lieutenant to officer. Both have filed an appeal, contending that the punishment is excessive.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Payne’s attorney, Greg Skordas, says that federal DOT law mandates a blood sample whenever a driver with a CDL license is involved in a fatal crash. Therefore, in obtaining the CDL, one is giving their implied consent.
However, Porter, Wubbels’ attorney, argues that the blood draw is actually the employer’s responsibility and not that of police, and that Utah law specifically requires that the person be suspected of being intoxicated, which Gray was not.
Following the incident, Payne was initially suspended from the police department’s draw program, which trains officers in phlebotomy so that they can draw the blood themselves for investigations.
“To date, we have suspended the officer from the blood draw program. We have already replaced our blood draw policy with a new policy,” Brown outlined on Sept. 1. “All remaining officers on the blood draw program have reviewed, and are operating under the new policy and protocol.”
Payne was later fired altogether, and also lost his part-time job with a paramedics company for being caught on camera stating that he would bring the hospital “all the transients and take the good patients elsewhere.”
Tracy says that he was not aware that the police department had an agreement with the hospital.
“Lt. Tracy was operating under an outmoded policy and one that was clearly inconsistent with state law when it came to drawing blood from unconscious or deceased accident victims,” his appeal reads. “He had been given no training in the new policy and had no reason to believe he could deviate from the policy he believed to be in effect at the time.”
William Gray, the man from whom Payne sought to obtain blood, died on Sept. 25.