She was an alpine skier in the 1998 and 2002 Olympics under the name Shaffer, and is now a nurse at Salt Lake City’s University Hospital. It may not take bravery to be an elite skier, but it takes grit. And Alex Wubbel had both bravery and true grit.
Det. Jeff Payne wanted to take a blood draw from an unconscious patient, not because he had any probable cause to believe that he was drunk or high, but because he was told to do so. The patient, a reserve police officer who drove a tractor-trailer, had been in a fatal crash and was severely burned.
Payne was told by his watch commander to draw blood. Wubbels refused to let him. Payne had cuffs and a gun. All Wubbels had was law and the grit to tell the cop “no.”
Wubbels says blood cannot be taken from an unconscious patient unless the patient is under arrest, unless there is a warrant allowing the draw or unless the patient consents. The detective acknowledges in the footage that none of those requirements is in place, but he insists that he has the authority to obtain the draw, according to the footage.
Wubbels was conveying hospital policy, but more importantly, the policy aligned with the law.
[Wubbels’ lawyer, Karra] Porter, however, said “implied consent” has not been the law in Utah since 2007, and theU.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the Constitution permits warrantless breath tests in drunken-driving arrests, but not warrantless blood tests. She stressed that the patient was always considered the victim in the case and never was suspected of wrongdoing.
This didn’t work at all for Payne, who failed to see why his order wasn’t more than sufficient for Wubbels to do as he commanded. After all, he’s a cop, and whatever a cop believes he’s entitled to do is “the law” as far as his exercise of force is concerned.
At one point, Payne threatens to take Wubbels to jail if he doesn’t get the sample, and he accuses her of interfering with a criminal case.
“I either go away with blood in vials or body in tow,” Payne says.
But what about the brave men in the hospital to stand up for Wubbels?
The footage shows the detective dragging Wubbels out of the hospital and putting her inside a patrol car as she screams, “Help! Help! Somebody help me! Stop! Stop! I did nothing wrong!”
A University of Utah police officer and Department of Public Safety officers, who provide security for the hospital, were present at time of the arrest and did not intervene.
They were in a quandary, forced to decide whether to face off with Det. Payne or protect Nurse Wubbels from false arrest. They chose their own, and that wasn’t Wubbels.
In a written report, Payne said he was responding to a request from Logan police to get the blood sample, to determine whether the patient had illicit substances in his system at the time of the crash. Payne explained the “exigent circumstances and implied consent law” to Wubbels, but, according to his report, she said “her policies won’t allow me to obtain the blood sample without a warrant.”
Payne reported that he was directed to arrest Wubbels for interfering with a police investigation at the direction of his watch commander. Following this arrest, where Wubbels got the typical perp treatment of her arms being grabbed, twisted behind her back and cuffed, she wasn’t charged. Then again, neither was Payne, who was taken off phlebotomy duty but otherwise remains an active detective.
Alex Wubbels did what a nurse, a health care professional, is supposed to do: she protected her patient. Too many docs are all too happy to cooperate with the police at the expense of the body in their care. Indeed, too many are happy to do the dirty work for them, wanting so badly to be on the side of the guys with guns. Wubbels refuse to be complicit in a physical violation of an unconscious person just because a cop said so.
The rule of thumb is comply now, grieve later. And it would have been the easier path for Wubbels to stand aside and let Payne do as he wanted. Easier for Wubbels, even if not for the unconscious patient. Ironically, it might even have been a choice the patient would have made, had he been capable of making it. But that wasn’t for Wubbels to decide. Her duty was to protect the patient. She did her duty.
As for Payne, there is the facile rationalization that he’s just a cop and thus too ignorant to be expected to know something so hard and complex as law before he exercises his power to do harm. So he got the law wrong? The Supreme Court says that happens, and it’s not a cop’s fault for being ignorant. Dumb cops. Too bad. That’s why they came up with the Reasonably Stupid Cop Rule.
But by arresting Wubbels, Payne went a step beyond the pale. She wasn’t his perp, but a nurse doing her job just as he believed he was doing his. There is a laundry list of vague offenses designed to fill the gap when a cop really needs to arrest somebody but has no actual wrongdoing to use. Resisting arrest, for example. Obstruction of justice as well. Or interfering in a criminal investigation, even if it it wasn’t and she was doing nothing more than the law allowed.
This is the incentive system crafted by a Supreme Court that has tacitly decided that not only do all ties go to the cops, but any call remotely explainable as well. Basically, the Court has chosen to stay far away from any line that might make a cop hesitate because of the hard work of thinking and chosen instead to protect the cops’ choice, even if it’s wrong and unlawful, so as not to risk harm to a cop or let a single bad dude get away.
This time, a tough nurse named Alex Wubbels got nabbed by some ignorant mutt named Payne. Guess which one is the hero.