The Utah nurse who drew national attention after she was manhandled and arrested for refusing to let a police detective take blood from an unconscious patient said Tuesday she had reached a $500,000 settlement with Salt Lake City and the university that runs her hospital.
Nurse Alex Wubbels and her attorney, Karra Porter, announced the settlement in a late-afternoon news conference outside the Salt Lake City Police Department, two months after they released body camera footage showing detective Jeff Payne handcuffing her and shoving her into a squad car as she screamed in protest.
The exact terms of the agreement were confidential, but Porter told The Washington Post that it covered “all potential defendants” involved in the incident. That included the University of Utah, Salt Lake City police and several individual security officers from the university who were present for Wubbels’ arrest but declined to intervene, Porter said.
Wubbels and Porter were considering filing a civil rights lawsuit, but the settlement now precludes that. The nurse previously stressed her main concern was protecting hospital staff and preventing the same conflict from happening again.
“Was a lawsuit off the table? It was never off the table, ever, from the very beginning,” Wubbels told reporters Tuesday. “But I also feel like as a whole we need to heal from this, we need to move on, we need to progress, and I feel that we’ve come to a place where we can have that conversation where we can do that.”
Wubbels said she will donate some of the proceeds to a fund that will help people obtain body camera footage and provide free legal aid for open records requests. She also is planning to use the money to raise awareness about workplace violence against nurses.
A spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski told the Deseret News that the city and the university had each agreed to pay Wubbels $250,000. “Salt Lake City has been focused first and foremost on ensuring policies and procedures are changed so things like this don’t happen again, and we are glad we could come to a resolution with nurse Wubbles,” the spokesman said.
Multiple body camera videos captured the explosive July 26 encounter between Wubbels and Payne, the detective.
Wubbels was working as the charge nurse at the University of Utah Hospital’s burn unit that afternoon when Payne arrived and demanded to collect a blood sample from an unconscious truck driver who was severely injured in a head-on collision. State law, federal law and hospital policy all required that police present a warrant or obtain patient consent before drawing blood. Payne had neither.
The nurse politely explained the policy to Payne and even got her supervisor on the phone to back her up. After a tense standoff, Payne grabbed Wubbels by her arms, cuffed her hands behind her back and shoved her into an unmarked car. Hospital security guards stood by as Wubbels cried “help me” and “this is crazy.”
Payne and another officer on the scene accused Wubbels of interfering with a police investigation, but she was later released without charges. The truck driver died of his injuries in late September.
Frustrated by the city’s initial response to the incident, Wubbels and her attorney got hold of the body camera footage and released it in early September. The videos went viral overnight, drawing a chorus of condemnations from hospital associations across the country and stoking a heated debate about police use of force. Salt Lake City’s mayor, police chief and officials from the University of Utah apologized to Wubbels shortly after, saying she should never have been arrested for doing her job.
A scathing internal review by police found that Payne and his supervisor, James Tracy, had violated a range of department policies and disgraced the force. In mid-October, Payne was fired and Tracy was demoted two ranks from lieutenant to officer. Both men have appealed the decision.
Wubbels, who was an Olympic skier before she became a nurse, said Tuesday she was still processing the chain of events but was optimistic that the fallout from her arrest could ultimately help improve relations between police and nurses.
“This landed in my lap. This is not something I sought out,” she said. “But I’m also honored by the weight of it and honored to be the one to help make progress in our society at large.”
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