Utah officer fired after nurse's arrest caught on video

Alex WubbelsThe Associated Press
FILE - In this July 26, 2017, frame grab from video taken from a police body camera and provided by attorney Karra Porter, nurse Alex Wubbels is arrested by a Salt Lake City police officer at University Hospital in Salt Lake City. Utah Police Detective Jeff Payne was fired Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, in a case that became a flashpoint in the ongoing national conversation about police use of force. (Salt Lake City Police Department/Courtesy of Karra Porter via AP, File)

A Utah police officer was fired Tuesday after being seen on video roughly handcuffing a nurse because she refused to allow a blood draw in an incident that became a flashpoint in the national conversation about use of force.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown made the decision to fire Detective Jeff Payne after an internal investigation found he violated department policies when he arrested nurse Alex Wubbels and dragged her screaming from the hospital, department spokesman Sgt. Brandon Shearer said.

Brown said in a disciplinary letter that he was "deeply troubled" by Payne's conduct, which he described as "inappropriate, unreasonable, unwarranted, discourteous, disrespectful" and said brought "significant disrepute" on the department.

"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," Brown wrote.

Attorney Greg Skordas, who represents Payne, said his client plans to appeal a firing he considers unfair and over the top. 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.

Payne's supervisor, Lt. James Tracy, was demoted to officer. His lawyer, Ed Brass, couldn't immediately be reached.

Tracy made an impulsive decision in ordering Payne to arrest Wubbels without first taking time to understand the facts of the situation and the law, Brown wrote in his disciplinary letter.

He said the order created chaos and unnecessarily escalated the situation.

"Your lack of judgment and leadership in this matter is unacceptable, and as a result, I no longer believe that you can retain a leadership position in the department," Brown said.

The letter said Wubbels told investigators that Tracy minimized her concerns, intimidated and lectured her, and made her feel like she was to blame for the events.

The Associated Press obtained the disciplinary letters for Payne and Tracy through a public records request.

Wubbels' attorney, Karra Porter, said they are pleased that Brown took action and recognized that the officers made crucial mistakes that have eroded public trust. Porter said she hopes the events are a catalyst to more public conversations about appropriate police behavior.

The case shows the vital importance of officers wearing body cameras and making those videos available to the public, Porter said.

"Without the body camera footage, it would have been a she-said, they-said," Porter said. "Alex feels very strongly that her story would have never been told if it weren't for the body camera footage."

Asked about a potential lawsuit, Porter said she expects to meet soon with city officials to discuss next steps that could include settlement talks.

The officers have five business days to appeal the decisions by the chief.

The case received widespread attention after police body-camera video was released by Wubbels and her lawyer in late August.

The video showed her explaining that hospital policy required a warrant or formal consent to draw blood from the patient who had been injured in a car crash.

The patient wasn't suspected of wrongdoing. He was an off-duty reserve Idaho police officer driving a semitrailer when he was hit by a man fleeing police in a pickup truck.

Payne nevertheless insisted on the blood draw, saying the evidence would protect the man.

Payne told Wubbels his supervisor said he should arrest her if she didn't allow the draw. Wubbels was later freed from the handcuffs and has not been charged.

Both officers were investigated and placed on paid administrative leave after the video became public. Salt Lake City police apologized and changed their policies.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, opened a criminal investigation into the arrest and asked the FBI to determine if there were any civil rights violations.

Payne was also fired from a part-time job as a paramedic after he was caught on camera saying he'd take transient patients to the University of Utah hospital where Wubbels worked and transport "good patients" elsewhere.

Payne had previously been disciplined in 2013 after internal-affairs investigators confirmed that he sexually harassed a female co-worker in a "persistent and severe" way.

His tenure also brought commendations for solving burglary cases and being shot in the shoulder during a traffic stop in 1998.

Tracy, meanwhile, earned commendations for drug and burglary investigations.

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Associated Press writers Brady McCombs and Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.