The Salt Lake City Police and the Fifth W

The Five Ws is the question formula by which journalist are supposed to answer in order to have a complete story. They are Who, What, When, Where, and Why.

The story and video of the Salt Lake Police arresting a nurse for refusing to draw blood from an unconscious victim raises serious questions as to the motives of the police department. (Red State)

The video answers the first four Ws. The unanswered question is why. Why would the police want blood so urgently from an unconscious accident victim who had just been admitted into The University of Utah Hospital?  Why would the police be so impatient for the blood that they would arrest the nurse in charge for not complying with their verbal order to draw blood?

It appears she had covered her bases. She had been on the phone with hospital administration. She printed out hospital policy to give to the police. She gave a perfect cogent answer as to why she couldn’t comply with their order. She was polite yet firm, never disrespectful.

But, as the video shows, they jerked her up, frog-marched her outside, cuffed her hands behind her back, and arrested her. Thankfully, all of this is captured by a police body cam.

This took place on July 26 of this year. Of course, the official apology came only after the video became viral. However, it doesn’t appear they were as open about their motive.

The Fifth W: “Why” seems obvious in today’s tort environment. Writing for The Marquette Law Review, Richard G. Zevitz presents a compelling article, “Police Civil Liability and the Law of High Speed Pursuit”. His introduction sets the stage for the motive: (MLR)

The specter of “hot pursuit,” complete with screaming sirens and red or blue flashing lights, has become a recurring fact of modem life. So, too, are the mishaps involving police vehicles or the vehicles pursued by the police. Pursuit-related accidents causing personal injury, death or property damage very often lead to lawsuits claiming negligence on the part of police officers, their supervisors and their governmental employers. Some of these suits have resulted in six or seven figure awards and several have nearly bankrupted some municipalities and townships. (Emphasis added)

The danger civilians is very real: (MLR)

While it is true that most high speed pursuits result in the capture and arrest of a fleeing suspect, the price paid for some of these apprehensions has been high. Many fatalities and serious injuries occur each year as a consequence of pursuit-related accidents. In fact, it has been established that approximately one-fifth of all police pursuits culminate in some type of collision involving the vehicle of the pursued suspect, a police officer or an innocent third party. The relatively high ratio of pursuit-related accidents has had its parallel in costly pursuit-related lawsuits. (Emphasis added)

The Fifth W? It’s a money thing:

In a survey conducted for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, it was found that in a ten year period from 1967 through 1976, plaintiff verdicts in high speed chase litigation ranked second among police civil liability suits in terms of dollar amount awarded, exceeded only by misuse of firearm or nightstick cases. An informal survey of police misconduct litigation in eleven states indicates that not only has the number of pursuit-connected tort actions risen dramatically, but so has the size of damage awards ensuing from such actions, although the percentage increases are not known. (Emphasis added)

There you have it. Police chase. Innocent victim now in a burn unit in a coma. Facing a potentially crippling lawsuit. What to do?

The only reason the police could have for immediately demanding the blood of an unconscious victim was to test for a high alcohol level, or for illegal drug use, or for the abuse of prescription drugs. Their motive seemed to be a fishing expedition to ascertain if they could somehow blame the crash on the victim. After all, if the victim was impaired, they could shift blame.

The real shame of the Salt Lake City Police’s decision is this style of damage control is all too common. It’s Spin 101. Blame the victim, attempt to strong-arm him into a drastically reduced settlement, perhaps even threaten arrest. At the very least, find something to confuse the jury if there is a trial.

This is pitiful. The real damage control should be protecting the Salt Lake city public from these guys in the future.

About the author

Wm. P. Fitzhenry

5th generation Texan, 2nd generation reformed Presbyterian, a twin and a serial entrepreneur.

View all posts