SALT LAKE CITY — Two investigations into the actions of two Salt Lake police officers involved in the widely publicized arrest of University Hospital nurse Alex Wubbels conclude that the officers violated several department policies.
The reports do not make recommendations about any disciplinary action. That will ultimately be up to Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown.
The police department's Internal Affairs investigation found that both Salt Lake police detective Jeff Payne and his supervisor Lt. James Tracy violated the following policies: conduct unbecoming of an officer; courtesy in public contacts; the department's law enforcement code of ethics that says all citizens should be treated with courtesy, consideration and dignity and officers should not allow personal feelings, animosities or friendships to influence them; department policy regarding misdemeanor arrests; and Salt Lake City's standards of conduct.
Payne — who is seen on body camera video grabbing the screaming nurse, pushing her out of the hospital's emergency room and holding her against a wall as he handcuffs her — also failed to file a report that is required whenever officers use force during an arrest, the Internal Affairs report says.
A second report by the independent Civilian Review Board concluded that both officers violated obligations to abide by policies/orders. The board also listed two other violations for Payne: "inconsiderate contact" and failure to document a use-of-force report.
Both officers now have 20 days to respond to the reports.
Attorney Greg Skordas, who is representing Payne, responded briefly to the investigations by stating: "We do have some issue with several of the findings. But generally, we think the investigator tried to be fair. We will await the decision of the chief about what discipline is appropriate before we take further action. This does not warrant major discipline or termination and we have advised our client that he should appeal any such determination."
A probe of the arrest by the FBI and an investigation by the Unified Police Department on behalf of the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office were still ongoing Wednesday.
The arrest of Wubbels occurred July 26 when Payne was sent to University Hospital to collect blood from a man injured in a fatal crash. But Wubbels — citing policy agreed upon by the hospital and the police department, as well as instructions from nearly a dozen superiors including the hospital's chief operating officer — declined to tell Payne where the patient was or allow him to draw blood.
After about 90 minutes of negotiating, according to a police report, an impatient Payne is seen in the video telling Wubbels, the charge nurse, that she is under arrest for interfering with a police investigation.
Police say Payne was taken off the blood draw program and an internal investigation was launched within 24 hours of the incident with Wubbels. But it wasn't until the video was publicly released on Aug. 31 that both officers were placed on administrative leave.
Tracy was the watch commander or supervisor on duty.
In its report, the Civilian Review Board found that neither Payne nor Tracy knew what the current law was concerning blood draws, that Payne wrongly let his frustration and emotions get the best of him, and that he wrongly grabbed Wubbels and forcefully pushed her out of the hospital without giving her a chance to calmly put her hands behind her back and submit to an arrest.
"It is very clear that detective Payne had become too emotionally involved in the confrontation with (Wubbels)," the report found. "His actions were loud, aggressive and overly mission driven."
The report reiterates that Payne "very clearly lost control of his emotions," calls his behavior "poor," and says his physical actions toward Wubbels "were needless and overly aggressive for the situation."
The report also commends Wubbels who "remained remarkably cool during this confrontation" and for standing up "for the rights of her patient and to protect her hospital from potential liability in a very professional manner. Unlike the officers, (Wubbels) sought advice from her supervisors."
The report says Wubbels was "calm, level-headed, unemotional and professional."
The Civilian Review Board said both Payne and Tracy should have been up to date on department policies. But at the very least, after Wubbels printed out a copy of the criteria for blood draws that had been previously agreed upon by the department and the hospital, the officers should have "recognized something was amiss and immediately sought legal clarification from reliable sources," the report says.
The board said a third officer who was with Payne should have called for a Code 909, which is used for officers who become too emotionally involved in a situation. The purpose of a Code 909, according to Salt Lake police policy, is to temporarily remove an officer from a situation, "to calm down" and "collect your thoughts."
The board also noted that none of the other officers present in the hospital — including University of Utah police — did anything to intervene. At one point, the report states, "as expected, the private hospital security staff were nothing more than observers."
Wubbels' attorney, Karra Porter, questioned Wednesday why the Civilian Review Board was never asked to get involved until Sept. 1, after Wubbels publicly released the police body camera videos of her arrest.
She also questioned Payne's police report in which he describes "reaching" for Wubbels while arresting her and not wanting to create a scene in the hospital.
"Some of this is just completely contrary to what we see on the video,” Porter said. "This description defies what is on the video. I mean, the statement when detective Payne says, ‘I didn’t want to have a scene in the ER.’ Uh, all of that is belied on the video."
New statements given by Payne and Tracy as part of the investigations were redacted from the reports because the district attorney's office may consider possible criminal charges, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said.
The Civilian Review Board did not address "the actual use of force used to remove" Wubbels because that is part of the investigation by Unified police and the district attorney.
Porter said she was anxious to throughly review the new reports, particularly with what they have to say about Tracy.
"I’m not sure enough attention had been paid to our concerns about what happened with Lt. Tracy,” she said.
Overall, Porter said her client's biggest concern currently is not about lawsuits or compensation, but to make sure something like this doesn't happen to any other health care workers.
"We believe that to regain the public trust, the police department needs to police itself. And so what we want is for this to be taken seriously and we’re letting this process go through. Then we reserve the right to give an opinion after the chief releases his findings,” she said.
Porter also noted that some of the biggest support Wubbels has received since the videos were released has been from law enforcement officers.
"Ex-law enforcement, active law enforcement, families of law enforcement. We have received so many communications saying, 'These are the guys that make the rest of us look bad,'” she said.37 comments on this story
Before announcing the findings, the mayor again issued a personal apology to Wubbels. Biskupski did not offer an opinion as to what she believes should happen to the officers.
"I want to make sure that all of the process can stand up to legal scrutiny, And therefore, I am not putting my finger on the scale. I want to make sure the chief, who is the end decider to all this, does not feel pressure, that he is really weighing the evidence for what it is and that we work through a process that has been established,” she said.