Salt Lake City, UT – Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown made a decision on Tuesday to fire Detective Jeff Payne for the arrest of nurse Alex Wubbels on July 26.
An investigation determined that nurse Wubbels was unlawfully arrested after Detective Payne was ordered by Lt. James Tracy to arrest Wubbels if she failed to co-operate with a blood draw.
It became apparent that neither Detective Payne or Lt. Tracy were familiar with current case law concerning blood draws based on implied consent.
Chief Mike Brown has yet to offer any explanation to why he failed to ensure that his officers were properly trained on current case law.
Lt. Tracy was demoted to officer for ordering the unlawful arrest.
Detective Payne’s attorney said that Detective Payne had served for 27 years and questioned if the incident warranted termination. The detective had previously received commendations for solving burglary cases and being shot in the shoulder during a traffic stop in 1998, according to Star Tribune.
He had also been previously disciplined for sexually harassing a female co-worker.
The initial incident happened on July 26 at around 2 PM when a Utah Highway Patrol officer was in pursuit of a pickup truck on ST 89/91 near Sardine Canyon, according to Salt Lake Tribune.
While fleeing, the pickup truck crashed into a semi-truck head-on, causing an explosion.
The pickup driver, Marcos Torres, 26, died on scene. The semi driver, William Gray, exited his vehicle while he was on fire. He was transported to University Hospital in Salt Lake City for treatment. Gray was a reserve officer from Idaho and he later died from his injuries.
You can see video of the crash below:
Any time there is a collision resulting in death, it’s normal to determine if anybody involved was impaired. Because Gray was transported to Salt Lake City, Logan police officers on scene asked Salt Lake police to obtain a blood sample from Gray.
Salt Lake Detective Jeff Payne, a trained phlebotomist, responded to obtain a blood sample from Gray, but Gray was unconscious.
Nurse Alex Wubbels told Payne that an agreement between the hospital and police department does not allow for a warrantless blood draw without patient consent or without the patient being under arrest.
Detective Payne consulted with the watch commander, Lt. James Tracy, who told him to arrest Wubbels for interfering with the investigation if she didn’t allow him to draw blood from Gray.
Wubbels went over the policy with the detective again, and Detective Payne arrested Wubbels. Bodycam video of the incident shows the arrest.
Wubbels was later released without charges and the police department has launched an internal investigation.
You can see the video of the arrest below:
Breath samples and blood draws are technically a “search” and governed under 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. A person is being searched when their blood is drawn, and then their blood is being searched to obtain evidence of impairment.
In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (Birchfield v North Dakota) that while breath samples were minimally invasive and did not require a warrant, blood samples did require a warrant.
Prior to the case in 2016, there was no clear guidance to law enforcement which said that blood draws required warrants, and warrantless blood draws could have been legal under a search incident to arrest or implied consent laws.
Neither Detective Jeff Payne or Lt. James Tracy appeared familiar with the change in case law.
Because the search was unlawful, nurse Wubbels could not have committed a crime by “interfering” with it.
The agency has since updated their policies concerning blood draws, and the hospital has implemented policies telling nurses not to talk to the police.