The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said on Friday that the agency is looking into whether Officer Jeff Payne violated any federal laws when he forcefully arrested nurse Alex Wubbels in a Salt Lake City hospital after she refused to violate the law by allowing him to draw blood from an unconscious patient.
The FBI’s involvement comes after a formal request made by Salt Lake City District Attorney Sam Gill. In a statement issued to the press on Thursday, Gill said:
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.
That formal request was made by a letter sent to the FBI on Wednesday. In that letter, Gill specified that the Salt Lake City District Attorney’s Office was concerned as to whether Wubbels’ rights were violated under “color of law” and requested the FBI’s help in the matter.
Gill’s reference to “color of law” refers to a Civil Rights statute contained at 42 U.S.C. §1983. Under that statute, any person who is unlawfully detained by a police officer has been deprived of their rights under the Constitution. Penalties range from money damages to jail time for the offending party–and can even include the death penalty under certain circumstances. Payne would almost certainly not qualify for the death penalty, but money damages are common in such cases.
Sandra Yi Barker, the Public Affairs Specialist at the FBI’s Salt Lake City field office said that agents with the bureau had already opened their own–separate–review of the Payne-Wubbels affair after videos of Wubbels’ harrowing arrest were released to the public. She said:
We are there to support and assist [the Salt Lake City District Attorney’s Office] as needed, but we also have our own review going on at the same time.
Barker also stressed that the agency’s “color of law” review would only be an initial aspect in any overall or broader formal investigation, which is not yet definitive on the FBI’s part.
LawNewz reached out to Barker for further comment, who supplied this statement in response:
The FBI opened a civil rights/color of law review of the matter when we found out about it in the media. The Salt Lake County District Attorney has also asked for our assistance which we will provide.
Also implicated in the district attorney’s investigation is Payne’s supervisor, Lt. James Tracy, who advised him to arrest Wubbels that night in Utah. Both men were put on leave–after the controversial videos were released.
[image via screengrab]
Follow Colin Kalmbacher on Twitter: @colinkalmbacher
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