Editor's Note: The Salt Lake City Police Department announced that Detective Jeff Payne will be placed on full administrative leave pending an investigation. The editorial has been updated accordingly.
The Salt Lake City police detective who aggressively dragged nurse Alex Wubbels from her workstation in July, handcuffed and arrested her acted wrongly. He abused his authority and showed little regard for her position as an important liaison among patients, doctors and hospital administrators.
We’re glad Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Police Chief Mike Brown acknowledged as much during a press conference Friday. As painful as it was to watch the body cam video of the incident, which went viral and was reported by news outlets nationwide, it is dramatically instructive in regard to how police personnel should be better trained to handle disputes involving professionals who are following well-established rules.
Brown said the detective who made the arrest, Jeff Payne, has been suspended from the blood draw program where the trouble occurred. He will now be placed on full administrative leave, pending an investigation. Frankly, more should have happened sooner. While we respect the need for an investigation before determining final action, Payne should have been placed on leave immediately after the incident. He clearly acted in anger and in a manner disproportionate to the situation. Residents of Salt Lake City are left wondering whether he is fit to interact with the public and whether he will react similarly in whatever assignment he may receive. This is a matter of restoring public trust.
Simply reassigning detective Payne also would send a troubling message to the medical community, on whose trust police rely for a number of reasons. The sequence of events shown in the 19 minute, 22 second video (no one could reasonably argue that what is shown was taken out of context) reveals an attitude of contempt toward policies and procedures, and that alone disqualifies Payne from further interaction with the public until the matter is resolved.
The trouble began when the University of Utah hospital received an unconscious patient who was burned in an automobile accident. Police wanted a blood sample from the patient.
In the video, Wubbels tells officers that rules prevent her from taking such a sample unless the patient is under arrest, is conscious and gives consent or officers have a warrant.
Wubbels is seen speaking to a supervisor on her cell phone, who can be heard telling officers they are making “a huge mistake.” That’s when detective Payne loses his temper and, rather than attempting to talk to the supervisor on the phone, aggressively forces Wubbels from the hospital, handcuffs her and puts her in a squad car.
Taxpayers bestow enormous trust in the police they entrust to enforce laws and keep the peace. They provide them firearms and authority to use force, even to inflict mortal harm under certain conditions. Likewise, the medical community must work closely with law enforcement in an atmosphere of trust. But in all cases, police are authorized against the backdrop of the rule of law and the presumption they will treat their authority with professionalism.
In this case, a conscientious nurse was punished for respecting the rules and the rights of a patient. That is unacceptable, and it has put Salt Lake City in a horrible light nationally.