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Officer handcuffs nurse for refusing blood test on patient

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Nurse Alex Wubbels is arrested by a Salt Lake City police officer
In this July 26, 2017, frame grab nurse Alex Wubbels is arrested by a Salt Lake City police officer at University Hospital in Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake City Police Department | Courtesy of Karra Porter via AP

A Utah police department is making changes after an officer dragged a screaming nurse out of a hospital in handcuffs when she refused to allow blood to be drawn from an unconscious patient.

Nurse Alex Wubbels followed hospital policy and advice from her bosses when she told Salt Lake City police Detective Jeff Payne that he could not get the blood sample without a warrant or consent from the patient, said her lawyer, Karra Porter.

Police spokeswoman Christina Judd said the agency started an internal investigation within hours of the encounter on July 26 and that the assistant chief has apologized to University Hospital.

"We're alarmed by what we saw in the video and take it very, very seriously," Judd said.

Police body-camera video shows Wubbels, who works in the burn unit, calmly explaining that she could not take blood from a patient who had been injured in a deadly car accident, citing a recent change in law. A 2016 U.S.  Supreme Court ruling affirmed that a blood sample cannot be taken without patient consent or a warrant.

Wubbels told Payne that a patient was required to give consent for a blood sample to determine intoxication or be under arrest.

Otherwise, she said police needed a warrant. Payne insisted.

The dispute ended with Payne saying, "We're done, you're under arrest" and physically moving her outside while she screamed. The department said the frustrated Payne had called his supervisor and that several people went back and forth about the time-sensitive blood draw for over an hour. "It's not an excuse. It definitely doesn't forgive what happened," Judd said.

The detective left Wubbels in a hot police car for 20 minutes before realizing that blood had already been drawn as part of treatment, her attorney said. She was not booked or charged.

"This has upended her worldview in a way. She just couldn't believe this could happen," Porter said.

Payne has been suspended from drawing blood but remains on duty as a detective in the investigations unit. He is among a group of officers who are certified phlebotomists, called upon regularly when a blood sample is required for a police investigation.

Payne could not be reached for comment. Message for the Salt Lake Police Association union was not immediately returned.

In response to the incident, Judd said the department updated its blood draw policy last week to mirror what the hospital staff uses. She said officers have already received additional training but that they are still sorting out the department's response since the law changed.

"We want to know where something went wrong, what we didn't know, and why we didn't know it," Judd said.

The agency has met with hospital administration to ensure it does not happen again and to repair their relationship.

"There's a strong bond between fire, police and nurses because they all work together to help save lives, and this caused an unfortunate rift that we are hoping to repair immediately," Judd said.

The hospital said it's proud of the way Wubbels handled the situation. The nurse's union National Nurses United called the arrest an outrageous act of violence.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the patient was a reserve police officer from Idaho who was working his other job as a semi-truck driver when a car fleeing the Utah Highway Patrol crashed into him. The newspaper cites police reports saying Payne was trying to take the blood to clear him of any wrongdoing in the wreck.