Kiana Lei Yap | Opinion Columnist

Circulating throughout social media and news programs is the viral video of the hostile arrest of Alex Wubbels, a nurse at the University of Utah’s hospital burn unit, from July 26. Over a month later, this violent incident has sparked outrage as the body cam footage of arresting detective and part-time paramedic Jeff Payne was released to the public.

Officer Payne with the Salt Lake City Police Department (SLCPD) requested a blood sample from a burn unit victim. Ms. Wubbels, in adhering to the University hospital’s protocol with the support of her supervisor, denied the request, stating that the patient could not give consent because he was unconscious.

Furthermore, the patient was not under arrest, and no arrest warrant was made or placed in Wubbels’ possession. Wubbels was swiftly and aggressively escorted out of the burn unit ward, violently handled by the officer, and placed in custody in Payne’s squad car until the hospital’s higher administration could remedy the issue.

Social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, has the power to disseminate viral media and messages throughout society to engage with and respond seemingly instantaneously to acts of unnecesary violence such as Wubbels interaction with SLC police. In this case, it perpetuated and increased the public’s anger at this incident in a matter of hours after the video was released and spread.

The responsive outrage stems from the belligerence displayed by the detective while arresting the nurse, who was dutifully adhering to hospital protocol and patient care standards. Regardless of the reasons as to why Payne required the blood sample, his actions were unethical, abusive, and inappropriate given the power dynamics in play, the setting in the patient ward, and the blatant disrespect to Wubbels and hospital administration.

Although the Salt Lake City Police Department issued a statement saying that “[they] were alarmed by what [they] saw in the video” and that “[they] take this [incident] very seriously,” more needs to be done to educate officers about protocols in time-sensitive situations. Payne was placed on administrative leave immediately after the incident, but it was not until the bodycam footage went viral that he was ultimately let go by  SLCPD.

Salt Lake City Council Chairman Stan Penfold said in a council meeting after this incident, “We stand united in our belief that it is unacceptable…It was especially frustrating in light of all the progress the police department has made recently on [de-escalation] training. This is a big step back on those efforts.”

What those efforts in de-escalation training need to clearly focus on is teaching officers when to step down in situations where they are not the commanding power. Payne was not the one in charge in the burn unit patient ward, but Wubbels was. She was the messenger in communicating the hospital’s policy on drawing blood from unconscious patients; therefore, both she and Payne were bound by that policy within the hospital’s walls. However, considering that Payne was a paramedic, perhaps he should have drawn blood from the patient during transport if he needed it so desperately.

Given the timing, it seems the real reason for Payne’s firing was to protect the department’s reputation again from the perception of its flaws. Possibly wanting it to just look like they hold their officers to a high standard of ethical conduct, the necessity in firing Payne was when the wrongfulness of his actions were revealed to the public and garnered outrage. Had this reaction from the public and social media not been one of anger, then it’s probably fair to assume that Payne would still be with the SLCPD.

This act of police violence was wholly unwarranted, as Wubbels was not being disrespectful, uncooperative, or violent towards Officer Payne. Perhaps Payne’s display of male aggression towards the nurse was triggered by him not feeling in control of the situation, something that he must surely be unaccustomed to as a seasoned officer working in a male-dominated society.

But to Payne, of course, it is he himself who is being wronged, and it is the nurse who is being intentionally uncooperative with the police.

Correction: In an earlier version of this article, Alex Wubbels’ name was spelled incorrectly. The correctly spelling is now used, and The Collegian apologizes for this mistake.

This article has 1 comment

  1. Lt. Tracy’s scolding of Nurse Wubble, a respected medical professional, like a child speaks volumes the arrogant attitude this police department has with the hospital staff. Moreover, when Tracy complained that the hospital had a bad habit of impeding with “my law”, the FBI shouldn’t have any problem finding “color of law” violations.

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