When a video of a police officer violently arresting a nurse who refused to take a blood sample from an unconscious patient went viral, the main questions were: When did this incident happen, were the officers fired as a result, and why were they so adamant about getting the blood sample that they were willing to arrest a nurse who was following the law?
The incident occurred on July 26, over one month before the Body Cam footage was released. While the officer featured in the video who initiated the manhandling, Detective Jeff Payne, was taken off of the Blood Draw Unit and placed on “administrative duty,” he was still paid his full taxpayer-funded salary and was not subject to a criminal investigation—up until the video went viral.
However, after the Body Cam footage of the arrest spread across the internet, Payne was placed on administrative leave, and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced that a criminal investigation will be conducted in the name of “transparency and institutional accountability.”
“On the face of the evidence, there is concern that is raised about this officer’s conduct,” Gill told the Salt Lake Tribune. “But the whole point of an investigation is to gather the information about this situation.”
In response to the video, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Police Chief Mike Brown also held a press conference and issued statements on Friday claiming they were alarmed by the video. They insisted that changes to police blood draw policies and officer training have been made—although they did not specify what those changes were.
However, one of the most alarming things about the rhetoric from Biskupski and Brown was their claim that seeing the video of Payne’s behavior in the media was the first time they had fully seen the Body Cam footage.
This is concerning, not only because it shows that a police chief is not paying attention to the actions of his officers, but also because Jeff Payne was not the only officer on the scene when he arrested Nurse Alex Wubbels. There were multiple officers shown in the video who stood and watched—with some even stepping in to help—as Payne grabbed Wubbels and violently arrested her.
Even if those officers present during the arrest did not feel comfortable standing up and saying something at the time, why didn’t they mention anything about it to their internal supervisors? And if they did, why was the police chief not alerted to the fact that he needed to watch the Body Cam footage in full?
As for the question of why police were so adamant about obtaining the blood of an unconscious man that Payne was willing to arrest a nurse who was following the law, and his fellow officers were willing to stand around and watch as it happened, the answer may stem from the reason why the man in question was unconscious in the first place.
William Gray, a reserve police officer from Rigby, Idaho, was the comatose patient whose blood was demanded by the Salt Lake City officers. Gray was working as a truck driver when a car crossed into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with his truck—severely injuring Gray and killing the driver of the car.
The car that hit Gray was driven by a man who was the suspect in a Utah State Highway Patrol chase, which may explain his erratic driving. A statement released by the Rigby Police Department thanked Nurse Wubbels for “protecting Officer Gray’s rights as a patient and a victim,” and noted that Gray was the victim in the crash and “at no time was he under any suspicion of wrongdoing.”
“The Rigby Police Department would like to thank the nurse involved and hospital staff for standing firm, and protecting Officer Gray’s rights as a patient and victim. Protecting the rights of others is truly a heroic act. … It is important to remember that Officer Gray is the victim in this horrible event, and that at no time was he under any suspicion of wrongdoing. As he continues to heal, we would ask that his family be given privacy, respect, and prayers for continued recovery and peace.”
While many have speculated that the reason why Salt Lake City Police were so adamant about obtaining a sample of Gray’s blood was that they were looking for a substance that would impair his driving to the point where they could not be held liable for the chase in a future lawsuit, the truth may never be made public.
However, the fact that a police officer violently arrested a nurse for following the law and respecting the rights of an innocent patient, while multiple officers watched and even aided the arrest, and yet the police chief claims that he never even watched the Body Cam footage in its entirety, is a fact that cannot be covered up, and should be on the forefront of everyone’s mind when looking at this situation.
Commentary by Jon Masters,