SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Salt Lake City Police Department has fired the police detective who was video recorded aggressively handcuffing a hospital nurse who refused to allow him to draw blood from an unconscious patient in July.
The video, recorded by a police body camera, of the awkward dustup and arrest of University Hospital nurse Alex Wubbels went viral. As a result, it drew widespread condemnation in and out of law enforcement circles.
Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown relieved Detective Jeff Payne of his duties and disciplined his watch commander, Lt. James Tracey, by demoting him to the rank of officer, reported The Salt Lake Tribune.
The action comes after an internal affairs report released Sept. 13, which found that both officers were in violation of department policy. In a highly detailed “notice of decision” letter, Brown said the two officers failed in their requirement to treat all citizens “equally with courtesy, consideration and dignity.”
“In examining your conduct,” Brown wrote to Payne, “I am deeply troubled by your lack of sound professional judgment and your discourteous, disrespectful, and unwarranted behavior, which unnecessarily escalated a situation that could and should have been resolved in a manner far different from the course of action you chose to pursue.”
However, what is unknown is whether sustained misconduct of this nature would normally result in termination at the Salt Lake Police Department. Consequently, the negative attention generated by this incident certainly worked against Payne as the chief made his decision.
Brown was similarly critical of Tracy, saying his lack of judgment and leadership was “unacceptable,” and, “as a result, I no longer believe that you can retain a leadership position in the Department.” Consequently, he was demoted two-ranks from lieutenant to the rank of police officer.
The incident was sparked by the case of an off-duty Idaho reserve police officer whose vehicle was struck by another motorist fleeing the police in a pickup truck. Payne came to the hospital insisting that blood be drawn from the unconscious patient. Wubbels was arrested after “repeatedly and calmly” explaining to Payne that hospital policy required a warrant or the patient’s consent before blood could be drawn. Brown faulted Payne for, among other things, not seeking to de-escalate his confrontation with Wubbels by taking his demands to her supervisor.
“You inappropriately acted against Ms. Wubbels,” wrote Brown.
Payne and Tracey have five days to appeal Chief Brown’s action.
Payne’s attorney, Greg Skordas, said his client plans to appeal the firing, which he called unfair and over the top, according to The Associated Press. Skordas said Payne would still be employed if the body camera footage hadn’t generated so much attention and blown the events out of proportion, the AP reported.
Wubbels recounted her experience in a September interview with ABC News.
She said the situation escalated as she tried to explain why she wouldn’t allow the patient’s blood to be drawn unless he was under arrest or if there was a police warrant.
Moreover, when Wubbels defended the hospital’s policy, supported by a 2016 Supreme Court ruling citing that warrantless blood draws are a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment, she was rebuffed.
“I either go away with blood in vials or body in tow. That’s my only choices. I’m going to follow my boss’s instructions,” Payne is heard saying in the bodycam video.
“I just said, ‘Look, I’m sorry, we can’t let you do this at this time,'” Wubbels told ABC News in an interview where she was joined by her attorney Karra Porter. “And [Payne] just got up and said, ‘You’re not sorry!’
“Right then he was on this war path,” she added.
In the video, which Wubbels said her attorneys received through a public records request, Payne is heard declaring, “We’re done!” and Wubbels wails as she’s led from the hospital in handcuffs.
“I think I was able to keep my cool pretty well, because I knew I was in a tough situation,” she said, noting that she continued to refer to the detective as “sir” even as he dragged her out of the hospital.
(Photo: Screenshot police bodycam video)