SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill on Thursday formally asked the FBI to launch a civil rights investigation into the controversial arrest and detainment of University Hospital nurse Alex Wubbels.
“There continue to be issues that go beyond merely a criminal investigation, and in an effort to address those concerns, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office has formally asked for assistance from our federal law enforcement partners to fully vet issues only they can investigate,” Gill said in a prepared statement.
Gill said the request for federal assistance does not mean that his office is handing the case off. On the contrary, the district attorney said the investigation into potential criminal charges by his office is continuing. But the issue is concerning enough, Gill said, that he wants the investigation to be thorough.
"We’re taking this issue serious enough, and there's enough concern to our community that we want to leave no stone unturned," he said.
On July 26, Wubbels was handcuffed and placed in a police patrol car for about 20 minutes by Salt Lake police detective Jeff Payne after she refused to tell him where an unconscious patient was being treated in the hospital's burn unit so he could draw blood from the man.
The incident was recorded by police body cameras. Wubbels explained multiple times to Payne that in order for him to take blood, the patient must either give consent, must be a suspect in a criminal case, or police must have a warrant.
At one point during the recording, officer Denton Harper asks Payne why he doesn't just get a warrant for the blood. Payne replies that he doesn't have probable cause. Payne later claims he can legally take the blood under the "implied consent" rule.
Wubbels was ultimately released after Payne's supervisor, Lt. James Tracy, is heard telling Payne in the video that the arrest won't stick. Tracy said he didn't realize that blood had already been drawn by nurses at University Hospital and they could seek a warrant for it at a later date.
Both Payne and Tracy were placed on administrative leave after the body camera video was released last week, sparking anger worldwide.
Gill said he saw the video for the first time that night and immediately called his staff to find out if it was something they were aware of before calling the police department. Over the Labor Day weekend, he reached out to the FBI, he said.
"We want to make sure we are fair to the process as much as we can be," he said. "We don’t know what’s going to happen. No decision has been made. But we want the process to be thorough."
"We ask the community and our citizens to be patient," Gill continued. "We assure them that this issue is of the utmost concern for us and we are committed to assuring a thorough, fair gathering and review of evidence, facts and issues.”
The Unified Police Department is helping conduct the investigation for the district attorney's office. Salt Lake police said an internal investigation was launched "within 24 hours" of the incident.
Both Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown and Salt Lake Mayor Jackie Biskupski have apologized to Wubbels and have called the detective's actions inappropriate.