October 15, 2019

When a video of a Salt Lake City police officer handcuffing a University of Utah Hospital nurse for refusing to draw blood from an unconscious patient went viral, the department fired him for his conduct, but now, the officer is suing the department and the city, saying he was following his supervisor's orders when he arrested the nurse, Paighten Harkins reports for the Salt Lake Tribune.

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Incident details

On July 26, 2017, Salt Lake City Police Officer Jeff Payne demanded a blood draw from an unconscious patient to determine whether the patient had "any chemical substances in his system" at the time of a car crash that Payne was investigating. According to a report Payne filed over the incident, the patient had been flown to the hospital for burn treatment following the crash, which occurred when another driver who was fleeing police collided with the patient's tractor trailer. The fleeing driver was killed.

Alex Wubbels, a nurse who has worked at the University of Utah Hospital since 2009, refused Payne's request, citing hospital policies and saying she was following the law. Wubbels said the request did not meet specific criteria: The patient was not under arrest, and the police did not have a warrant or the patient's consent. Wubbels added that she contacted several hospital administrators over the matter, and they supported her position.

Payne accused Wubbels of interfering with an investigation and threatened to arrest her if he did not get the blood. When Wubbels refused again, Payne took her into custody. Wubbels was in handcuffs for about 20 minutes before being released.

After video of Wubbels' arrest went viral, the Salt Lake City Police Department fired Payne.

Charges were never filed against Wubbels, but Wubbels later that year settled with Salt Lake City and the University of Utah over the incident for $500,000. The settlement removed the possibility of a lawsuit from Wubbels, according to Becker's Hospital Review.

Was Payne the victim of an outdated law?

Now, the city and the police department are facing a lawsuit from Payne.

Payne on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the Salt Lake City Police Department and the city over the incident that alleges that Payne and Wubbels were both "merely doing what they were told to do" by their employers.

The lawsuit claims that Payne arrested Wubbels under the instruction of his supervisor Lt. James Tracy. According to the suit, Payne tried to leave the hospital, but Tracy told him to stay and arrest Wubbels if she refused to draw the patient's blood. If it were up to Payne, he would have left the hospital without disturbing Wubbels, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also argues that Payne was following the police department's policy manual when he tried to arrest Wubbels. According to the suit, the department changed its blood draw policies after the incident with Wubbels, which proves that the department knew the policy was out-of-date.

"Officer Payne took the blame for what was apparently [a] … wholescale failure to train officers on what the law was and how it would apply to the given situation," the lawsuit states.

In addition, the lawsuit accuses Salt Lake City of releasing the video of the incident prematurely. As a result, the lawsuit states that Payne was on the receiving end of the backlash from the arrest, with leadership at the police department taking little blame for the incident.

Payne is seeking more than $300,000 in damages through the lawsuit. Neither the Salt Lake City Police Department nor Payne responded to the Salt Lake Tribune's request for comment (Harkins, Salt Lake Tribune, 10/12; Bean, Becker's Hospital Review, 11/1/17).

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