There is a rarely-used doctrine in constitutional law that says that a police officer violates a person's constitutional rights if the officer's conduct "shocks the conscience." In other words, does something really, really bad.
In the news this week, it's a rogue, out-of-control Utah police officer who has won admission to the "Law Enforcement Hall of Shame." After a fatal motor vehicle accident, Detective Jeff Payne wanted a nurse at a hospital in Salt Lake City to draw blood from a suspect. Detective Payne, however, did not have probable cause to suspect wrongdoing by the suspect, and did not have a search warrant. (He couldn't get one because search warrants are granted only upon probable cause).
A citizen-hero, Nurse Alex Wubbels, the Head Nurse of the burn unit at the hospital, refused to draw blood. She didn't have the patient's consent and the cop didn't have a warrant. Basic constitutional law, throughout the country, says no warrant, no consent, no blood draw. The Head Nurse had her supervisor show Detective Payne the hospital policy forbidding blood draws in these circumstances.
So what did Detective Payne do? He betrayed his oath and brought shame upon his badge. He forcibly arrested the nurse and roughed her up, even while other officers were telling him to stop and telling him he was breaking the law. It was all captured on film by another cop on scene who was wearing a body camera.
Now, we can expect that the taxpayers of Salt Lake City will have to pay a big civil judgment sometime in the future. Hopefully, it will cause them to exercise more citizen control over their police department. Because - and its sickening - this officer is still on active duty. Talk about shocking the conscience! We see this again and again, across the country- no accountability for rogue police officers.
What do we learn from this story? First, we must work harder across the country to pass laws requiring police officers to carry body cameras. They create transparency, helping to keep the police honest and giving them an extra incentive to act professionally at all times. They also protect the police by preventing people from making frivolous and false complaints against police officers.
But second, we must honor Nurse Alex Wubbels, who refused to help a lawless rogue cop violate the Constitution. In doing so, she sacrificed herself, demonstrating great courage. She is a true hero and great American.
© 2018 Lothstein Guerriero, PLLC