Prosecutors in Utah’s Salt Lake County have asked the FBI to join a criminal probe into the violent arrest of a local nurse who was manhandled by a detective and shoved screaming into a squad car as she tried to protect the legal rights of a patient.
In a letter made public Thursday, District Attorney Sim Gill called on FBI agents to investigate whether the arresting officer or anyone else in the chain of command violated nurse Alex Wubbels’s civil rights or broke other laws during the July 26 incident.
Police body camera footage released last week showed Detective Jeff Payne of the Salt Lake City Police Department erupting at Wubbels at the University of Utah Hospital after she refused to let him draw blood from an unconscious patient, in accordance with hospital policy and federal law. Payne could be seen grabbing Wubbels by the arms and pushing her out of the building as she screamed “help me” and “your’re assaulting me.”
The altercation drew national attention and prompted the hospital to bar police from direct contact with nurses. The Salt Lake City mayor and other officials condemned the arrest, saying Wubbels had done nothing wrong. Multiple investigations are already underway, and Payne and another officer have been placed on administrative leave.
Gill’s office is conducting its own criminal probe but needs the FBI’s help to look into criminal civil rights violations, which fall under federal law.
“In order to be thorough, and given the gravity of the rights potentially implicated, all issues must be completely examined to restore the public trust currently compromised by the actions depicted in the publicly released video recordings of the incident,” Gill wrote. “Our community and its citizens deserve nothing less.”
An FBI spokeswoman told the Associated Press on Thursday that the agency had joined the county investigation. Salt Lake City police did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Gill’s letter specifically mentions Payne and asks the FBI to look into “other police officers and law enforcement personnel and anyone else acting under the color of authority, or failing to act when imposed with a duty to act.” That means the investigation could cover officers from the University of Utah and hospital guards, some of whom could be seen in the video standing by while Payne arrested the nurse.
Wubbels said in interviews this week that she had asked university security to intervene but they did nothing. University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy apologized in a news conference Monday, saying the video showed “how poorly the situation was handled.”
Wubbels was working as the charge nurse at the University of Utah Hospital’s burn unit when Payne arrived and demanded a blood sample from a truck driver who had been struck by a suspect fleeing police in another vehicle. The truck driver was not suspected of a crime and he was unconscious.
State and federal law, as well as hospital policy, require police to have a warrant or patient consent to draw blood in such circumstances. Payne had neither.
Wubbels politely read the hospital’s policy to Payne and even got her supervisor on the phone to help explain the decision. At that point, Payne yelled, “we’re done here.”
Video from two officers’ body cameras showed him seizing Wubbels and cuffing her hands behind her back. He then forced her into an unmarked car, where he and another officer accused her of interfering with an investigation. “This is crazy,” Wubbels said through tears. Officers from the University of Utah did not intervene.
Wubbels was released after about 20 minutes. She was not charged with a crime.
The nurse and her attorney released the footage at a news conference last week. Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and the city’s police chief apologized to Wubbels in a statement and said they had launched an internal investigation.
On Tuesday, Payne was fired from his part-time paramedic job at Gold Cross Ambulance. The detective could be heard in the video telling another officer that as a first responder he could “bring them all the transients and take good patients elsewhere” if Wubbels refused to let him draw blood. “That’s not the way we treat people in our city,” Gold Cross Ambulance President Mike Moffitt said.
In response to the incident, the University of Utah Hospital imposed new restrictions on law enforcement, barring them from patient care areas and from direct contact with nurses. “This will not happen again,” Gordon Crabtree, interim chief executive of the hospital, said at a Monday news conference.
Wubbels is considering legal action. Her attorney, Karra Porter, has called her arrest unlawful.
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