Officials in Salt Lake City have released the results of two investigations into the widely publicized arrest of a Utah nurse who refused to draw blood from an unconscious patient — and the conclusions are scathing.
Detective Jeff Payne’s actions were “inappropriate, unreasonable, unwarranted” and “disrespectful” when he manhandled University of Utah Hospital nurse Alex Wubbels and shoved her screaming into a squad car, a probe by the police department’s internal affairs division found. Payne and his supervisor, Lt. James Tracy, violated a slew of ethics rules and other department policies, disgracing the police force, according to the report, which was published Wednesday by the Salt Lake Tribune.
The incident “has brought significant disrepute on both you as a Police Officer and on the Department as a whole,” investigators wrote of the detective. “You demonstrated extremely poor professional judgment (especially for an officer with 27 years of experience), which calls into question your ability to effectively serve the public and the department in a manner that inspires the requisite trust, respect and confidence.”
Tracy’s actions were also reprehensible, the report found.
“Your conduct,” it read, “was discourteous and damages the positive working relationships the Department has worked hard to establish with the Hospital and other health care providers.”
Wubbels was working as the charge nurse in the hospital’s burn unit on July 26 when Payne arrived and demanded that he be allowed to draw blood from a truck driver who was severely injured in a head-on collision. State and federal law, as well as hospital policy, require police to have a warrant or patient consent to collect blood samples. Payne had neither.
When Wubbels politely and repeatedly refused the request, Payne grabbed her by the arms, handcuffed her and pushed her into an unmarked car as she screamed, “Help me” and “You’re assaulting me.” The detective and his supervisor accused her of interfering with the investigation.
Police body-camera footage of the encounter drew national attention when Wubbels and her attorney released it late last month, spurring multiple investigations and prompting the city to apologize to the nurse and the hospital. Payne and the lieutenant were placed on administrative leave, and Payne was fired from his part-time job as a paramedic.
The internal affairs report released Wednesday said Payne and Tracy violated five department policies, according to the Salt Lake Tribune: conduct unbecoming of an officer; courtesy in public contacts; department rules on misdemeanor arrests; the department’s law enforcement code of ethics; and Salt Lake City’s standards of conduct.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski announced the findings in a news conference Wednesday.
“The events of July 26 have certainly shaken our community,” Biskupski said. “They have strained the trust we have built between the public and the police department. Many of us have been left wondering how this could possibly have been happened.”
A second report released Wednesday by the independent police civilian review board found similar violations. Additionally, it said Tracy violated his duties as a watch commander and that Payne had violated blood draw procedures. The report also cited Payne for “inconsiderate contact” and failure to document a use-of-force report, according to the Deseret News. The detective “very clearly lost control of his emotions,” it found, adding that his actions “were needless and overly aggressive for the situation.”
Payne and Tracy have 20 days to respond to the internal affairs investigation. Once they do so, Police Chief Mike Brown will decide their punishment. Both could be fired from the department.
Greg Skordas, an attorney representing Payne, told the Deseret News that he took issue with some of the findings but believed that investigators “tried to be fair.”
“We will await the decision of the chief about what discipline is appropriate before we take further action,” Skordas said. “This does not warrant major discipline or termination and we have advised our client that he should appeal any such determination.”
An attorney for Tracy didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Thursday morning. The Salt Lake Tribune reported last week that the lieutenant had received death threats on social media because of the arrest.
A criminal investigation of the incident by local prosecutors and the FBI is underway. The University of Utah Hospital has barred police from its patient-care areas and from direct contact with its nurses.
Wubbels and her attorney said they were considering legal action but were more concerned with preventing the same conflict from happening again.
“I’m giving everyone the benefit of the doubt right now,” Wubbels told KUTV2 last week. “This conversation that I’m trying to promote is we have to give each other the benefit of the doubt, we have to be civil to one another.”
Travis Andrews contributed to this report.
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