Video of the assault and arrest of Utah nurse Alex Wubbels went viral earlier this week, prompting nationwide outrage on behalf of the medical professional who found herself handcuffed and in a police cruiser for simply doing her job. Wubbels found herself at the mercy of an overzealous Salt Lake City police officer after refusing to conduct (or allow) an illegal blood draw on July 26, and the entire incident was caught on camera.
The incident was sparked by a deadly accident on a Utah highway; afterward, Salt Lake City Police Detective Jeff Payne arrived at the University of Utah Hospital burn unit demanding a blood draw from a badly burned patient. Nurse Alex Wubbels, who has been an employee since 2009, refused, citing hospital policy and Utah law. As NBC News reports, it was then that Payne became increasingly agitated and ultimately got physical with Wubbels, physically assaulting and arresting her when she refused to comply with his illegal demand. Despite being attacked while on duty as a nurse and even manhandled by the irate Payne, Wubbels was never charged with a crime.
This week, video of the unconscionable arrest was made public, went viral, and enraged citizens across the nation. Since, Alex Wubbels has received public accolades for holding her ground in the face of apparently misguided law enforcement pressure, a public apologies from the Salt Lake City mayor and Chief of Police.
Even Utah Governor Gary Herbert took to social media to call the assault and arrest of the Utah nurse “disturbing,” calling on the SLCPD to handle the matter as quickly as possible.
Now, Wubbels also appears to be receiving a more resounding, impactful, and meanigful form of justice. On Friday, the Salt Lake City Police Department announced that Detective Jeff Payne and one additional officer have been placed on administrative leave following the release of Alex Wubbels’ arrest video.
In the video, Wubbels can be seen holding her ground against an increasingly aggressive and ill-informed Payne, refusing to draw blood from an unconscious patient without his consent or a warrant, or that patient being under arrest. Indeed, the patient in question was the victim of the deadly crash, his vehicle having been slammed into by another driver who died at the scene.
In Payne’s written report of the incident, he claimed to have wanted the blood draw to prove unequivocally that the patient, a truck driver and reserve police officer in Rigby, Idaho, had done nothing wrong.
The Utah nurse is filmed speaking with her supervisor on the phone as Payne, a trained phlebotomist himself and part of his department’s blood draw unit, grows more agitated. At one point, Alex Wubbels’ supervisor can be heard warning the detective against threatening a nurse. Shortly thereafter, Detective Payne realizes that he is not getting the blood draw he demanded, and he simply snaps.
“No, we’re done. You’re under arrest, we’re going!”
In the now-viral, nearly 20-minute arrest video, the officer can be seen grabbing nurse Wubbels, forcing her into handcuffs and physically dragging her to his police car before forcing her inside. Alex Wubbels would later be released without charge.
According to Wubbels, the worst part of the arrest wasn’t the manhandling and physical assault that she endured for simply holding her ground and doing her job. The Utah nurse said Friday that the most negative aspect of her arrest was that none of the other officers or people in the hospital was willing to stand up for her in the midst of her ordeal.
“I was being bullied and nobody was willing to speak up for me.”
The video of Alex Wubbels’ arrest was released by the Utah nurse’s attorney, and since it went public, local prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into the case. That investigation is being handled by Salt Lake County’s Unified Police, and it is possible that criminal charges against Detective Payne (and/or other officers) could result, depending upon the outcome.
The State of Utah was once home to a so-called “implied consent” law. According to the law, if you drove in Utah, you implicitly gave consent for a drug/alcohol screening at the discretion of Utah law enforcement officers. That law was effectively tossed by the Supreme Court in 2016, when the court ruled that a blood sample cannot be taken without patient consent or a warrant. At that time, Utah law enforcement officers were to have been trained in the updated law, the very law nurse Alex Wubbels was upholding when she refused to draw blood on July 26.
According to a Salt Lake City police spokeswoman, when the arrest of Alex Wubbels was brought to the department’s attention, it was taken “very seriously.” What’s more, the department claims to be striving to ensure that no one else in the Utah medical community ever again has cause to fear a police officer.
“We took the incident very seriously from the moment we found out about it and have been working really diligently with Wubbels’ attorney and… herself, and trying to make sure that no one in the medical profession ever needs to fear a police officer here. It’s so sad that we’ve had this rift in our relationship with the medical community and we’re working hard to fix that.”
What are your thoughts on the arrest of Utah nurse Alex Wubbels? Do you believe that Detective Payne overstepped his authority? Do you believe he may have committed criminal assault? Is being placed on administrative leave an appropriate punishment? Let us know in the comments below.
[Featured Image by Rick Bowmer/AP Images]