By now most of you have seen the video on your social media feeds of Nurse Alex Wubbels being arrested by Detective Jeff Payne. We all know what happened, but it’s still not clear on why it happened. Here is what we know so far:
Marco Torres was running from the police in a pickup truck. The pickup went left of center and collided head-on with a semi driven by William Gray. Torres died at the scene and Gray was critically injured and badly burned. Torres was obviously at fault in the accident, but there′s nothing the police can do to him or for him at this point. Gray was sedated by paramedics and taken to the hospital.
At the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, Payne ordered Wubbels to take a blood sample from William Gray. She refused to provide a sample because of the hospital′s policy, which said that a blood sample can only be provided to the police if the patient had been arrested, a warrant was issued, or the patient consented. There was no warrant, William Gray was not suspected of any crime, and he was incapable of giving consent while unconscious. This policy was started as part of an agreement between the hospital and the Salt Lake City Police Department.
Multiple staff members told Payne that none of them would draw another blood sample from Gray, and tried to explain the policy to him. Payne arrested Wubbels after his supervisor ordered him to do so. This bizarre situation begs the following question: Why Payne was so insistent on getting a blood sample from someone who has done nothing wrong?
Both Payne and Wubbels were just following orders. She didn’t want to be a hero any more than he wanted to be the villain. It’s just that Wubbels had better orders to follow than Payne. For a long time in Utah, it was routine to obtain blood samples from all drivers involved in a fatal accidents. The doctrine was that if you are driving on the road, your consent to a blood test is implied. However, a recent Supreme Court ruling bans blood samples from being taken without a warrant and overturns implied consent laws. It is possible that Detective Gray was unaware of the court ruling that directly impacted his job. However, the hospital staff seemed to know more about the rule than the police did.
Some have also speculated that the SLCPD was concerned about Gray′s reputation as a reserve police officer. Others have even speculated that SLCPD wanted to smear Gray to protect the reputation of the Utah Highway Patrol, who started the police chase that led to the crash putting Gray in the hospital. These theories contradict each other, and we will probably never understand the true motive. Payne was clearly wrong to arrest Wubbels regardless of why he committed the heinous act. There is probably a lot more wrongdoing occurring beyond what we have seen.
To play devil’s advocate, Payne might not have been 100 percent sure that Gray was innocent and felt the need to gather more evidence. Blood samples are a time-sensitive issue too because the body metabolizes and quickly eliminates drugs from the blood. Still, Payne is a certified phlebotomist. Why didn’t he just get the blood sample himself?
It would appear that because of Gray′s severe burns, Payne might have needed assistance from hospital staff. If Payne has not been complying with the Supreme Court ruling, we are just now finding out about it a year after the ruling has taken effect. During that time, Payne and other Salt Lake City officers may have taken blood samples from other motorists against their will in violation of the 4th Amendment.
This whole matter would not have come to light without a brave nurse standing up under extreme duress for the rights of her patient. A more cynical way of putting it is that nobody cared about any of this until a blonde woman with a college education got arrested. Police departments throughout the United States would be wise to brief their officers on court cases that are relevant to their job, or the next viral video might come from their jurisdiction. Motorists also need to be aware that police cannot draw their blood without a warrant, an arrest, or their prior consent.