Police demand a nurse draw blood without a warrant, arrest her when she refuses

Reason published a story today about the unlawful arrest of a nurse in Salt Lake City. Police Det. Jeff Payne and several other officers are in a hospital emergency room demanding that the nurse draw blood from a man who is unconscious.

Nurse Alex Wubbels is on the phone with one of her superiors at the hospital who directs her to print out a one-page documents which outlines the circumstances under which she can draw blood from a patient and give it to police. Either the patient is conscious and can consent to the procedure, or the police can provide a warrant for the blood or, lastly, if the patient is under arrest police are allowed to get a sample.

In this case, the man was unconscious, not under arrest, and police had no warrant. Nurse Wubbels calmly tells the officers “I’m just trying to do what I’m supposed to do.” Instead of backing off, Det. Payne arrests the Nurse and handcuffs her.

Again, he has no legal right to do this. And as Reason points out, it’s not clear what the police needed this blood for anyway since the patient was never considered a suspect in any crime:

The patient, William Gray of Idaho, was driving a semi truck in Northern Utah when he was struck head-on by a man who veered into oncoming traffic on a highway in Wellsville on July 27. That driver, who died in the crash, was fleeing from the police in a high-speed chase. Utah Highway Patrol officers were responding to calls about an erratic driver, and the man, Marco Torres, 26, led police on a chase rather than get pulled over and detained.

So Gray’s terrible injuries were a consequence of a police chase that he had absolutely nothing to do with. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. According to the coverage of the arrest, Payne said that he wanted to draw blood from Gray to check for drugs in order to “protect” him in some fashion, not to punish him, and that he was ordered to go collect his blood by police in Logan.

What I see in that video is a pretty clear abuse of authority. This isn’t a moment of confusion where police are trying to control chaos. Everyone involved is calm and understands what the law is in this situation. The police are demanding this nurse perform what amounts to an illegal search and seizure and when the nurse refuses to go along with it they punish her.

Det. Payne has been taken off the team that collects blood but is still on active duty. His supervisor, who appears later to explain why her unlawful arrest was her fault, has also not been disciplined yet. All of this is being revealed thanks in part to police body cameras. This is just one more incident that convinces me body cameras for police are a good idea. They protect police from false accusations and, as in this case, create a record when police exceed their authority.

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