In an online forum I read (focused mostly on finance related topics but occasionally veering into politics and news), someone started a discussion with the title “Quick way to make a half million” — the original post is below (in italics).
Cops in Salt Lake screwed up and arrested a nurse. But half a million? Seriously?
University Hospital nurse Alex Wubbels has agreed to a $500,000 payment to settle a dispute over her arrest by a Salt Lake City police officer after she barred him from drawing blood from an unconscious patient, her attorney said Tuesday.
Attorney Karra Porter said at a news conference that the agreement with Salt Lake City and the University of Utah covers all parties and takes the possibility of legal action off the table. “There will be no lawsuit,” she said.
I’m glad I don’t pay tax in Salt Lake City. I’d be pretty mad if my tax dollars were being used for that non-sense. 1/100th of that amount seems like enough to me. That works out to $25,000 per minute she spent in the cop car.
Note to cops: Arrest me any time you want for a half million.
Why Does It Always Have to be About Race?
The title of the forum post was a bit glib, and the comment did not delve into what I considered the more relevant issues. So I posed a new question intended to start a different debate. I asked what would people think had the nurse who was assaulted by the police officer been black.
Yes, bringing race into the discussion feels cliché. In this instance, however, it seems more interesting and relevant than the discussing the dollar size of the settlement.
The media (and social media) response was almost universally in favor of the nurse. While I am sure there are individuals or groups that support the police officer’s actions, those responses were a minority. The actions of the officers were clearly egregious.
The amount of money she settled for is far less than seen in other types of police misconduct, but as she was not physically injured (that I know of), that figure makes sense. The $500k she received for the indignity she suffered, while perhaps high in proportion to the direct injuries she received, potentially to the nurse outrageous in the context of the millions paid out for a shooting. I don’t know what mental and/or physical harm the nurse suffered — perhaps she is suffering PTSD from being dragged out of work in handcuffs (someone else in this forum discussion raised that point). Of note, I read she is donating part of this money to charity.
I commented (in the original forum post) that I found it more significant that she was able to obtain a relatively large settlement so quickly. When contrasted with cases such as Tamir Rice, where a young boy playing with a toy gun was shot and killed by police officers in Cleveland (with essentially no warning or hesitation), this settlement was downright speedy.
In the Tamir Rice case, the local police department defended officers actions vigorously, and the justice system found no fault at all on part of the officers. The police did settle lawsuits to the tune of $6 million in that case.
It took two years for the Tamir Rice settlement. While the criminal case probably delayed some of the civil case aspects, I still was surprised how quickly the nurse obtained her settlement (though as far as I know there are no criminal proceedings pending).
Given how quick people take both sides when accusations of police misconduct arise, the near universal condemnation of the police officer in this case is remarkable.
How much of the sentiment was related to availability of the video and how much to other factors, such as race?
Does It Pay to be White?
I spent some time scouring The Interwebs to see what I could find. I did not find much. If someone has investigated this particular question, I couldn’t find the answer.
Many, many studies have demonstrated racial disparities in areas such as traffic stops, arrests, sentencing, etc. It’s been seen in so many different places that it doesn’t really seem to be a debate whether it happens, just whether it should happen. There’s one side that argues it is evidence of discriminatory practices. The other side arguing it’s legitimate, because those being stopped or arrested more often are the ones more likely to commit the crimes or be the perpetrator. I generally fall on the side of the former, but you can draw your own conclusion — that’s a different debate.
Being white did not prevent this nurse from being arrested, but perhaps the best corollary is in sentencing. If whites receive more lenient sentences than non-whites, perhaps they are also more likely to receive a more favorable settlement (when no crime was actually committed).
Salt Lake City is 75% white — I’ve no idea of the significance of that statistic in “white on white” crime. Black families are receiving settlements in cities with a large minority population (such as Freddy Gray in Baltimore), but it takes a lot longer and the police seem far more reluctant to acknowledge wrongdoing.
It’s certainly easier to admit wrongdoing in the case of the nurse, as the circumstances make guilt painfully obvious, and the infraction wasn’t as severe (no one died). When the accusation is murder or manslaughter, both the individual and the group standing behind them are going to be more defensive.
This is pure speculation — if there are any social scientists out there that can answer this, please chime in and help me out.
Assaulting a Nurse
Let’s be honest — nurses deal with a lot of sh*t in their jobs, but being handcuffed and dragged out of the hospital by a bellicose police officer as a result of appropriately defending a patient’s rights is extreme even by those standards.
Very recently, a nurse I was working with was assaulted during a shift by the parent of a patient.
Thankfully it wasn’t serious — the nurse is fine (physically) and the child (our patient) is fine. Risk management is involved and I’m not really positioned to discuss it on the blog.
At the time, working in the ER, all of us were more focused on the child, as he had an urgent medical need. In the days since then, I have become a angrier as I think more about what happened.
Working in an ER, sh*t sometimes rolls down hill. From specialists, from primary care practitioners, from administration, and from families (this is not a universal statement as we also have great relationships with many people from these groups). However healthcare workers in all settings are facing struggles with patients and families of patients.
It wasn’t that long ago that Michael Davidson, a surgeon in Boston was shot and killed, at work by the family member of a patient. These extreme cases thankfully remain rare, but the less severe cases are still common.
We aren’t on the front lines — police, firefighters, and paramedics are the ones pulling that duty — but there is more anger in the healthcare environment than we acknowledge.
We generally want to consider everyone our partners, but sometimes the love isn’t returned. This particular mother certainly didn’t consider us a partner — she came quite close to hitting me on her way out the door as I tried to defuse the situation.
I had an armed, burly security guard next to me by the time the mother stormed out, so it was unlikely anything would have happened at that moment. However whatever sense of security I had is somewhat ephemeral, as evidenced both by the death of Dr. Davidson, and the multiple mass shootings that have recently occurred (something I plan to discuss in the future).
The argument here is not that we all need weapons — when I have a showdown with a surgeon over ordering a CT scan, I want to use words as my weapon, not a scalpel or a handgun — it’s the deterioration of relationships in the healthcare system. It’s patients, it’s administrators, it’s specialists, it’s whoever.
We’ve evolved from the paternalistic view that doctor knows best. While that evolution was both appropriate and necessary (to a degree), the relationship between patients, families, and the healthcare providers has suffered a bit along the way. The sooner all sides acknowledge it, the sooner we can change our approach.