Salt Lake City police Detective Jeff Payne’s body camera footage confirms Logan police Chief Gary Jensen’s assertion that his officers did not push to get blood from the victim of a fiery crash in Cache County.
Payne ultimately handcuffed and arrested University Hospital nurse Alex Wubbels on July 26 after she refused to allow the blood draw on the grounds that the patient was unconscious and Payne had no warrant.
Jensen said one of his detectives investigating the crash told Payne not to worry about pushing for the blood draw because Logan could get the blood through other means. He said Logan officers didn’t initially realize the crash victim, 43-year-old William Gray, was unconscious and thus unable to consent to a blood draw.
“My investigator [tells Payne], ‘Hey, don’t worry about it, we’ll go another route. No worries,’” Jensen told The Salt Lake Tribune Wednesday.
Footage from Payne’s body cam paints a similar picture of his discussions with Logan police about the blood. As Wubbels sits handcuffed in Payne’s patrol car nearby, Payne and his watch commander, Lt. James Tracy — who ordered Payne to get the blood in the first place — confer about the escalating situation.
Tracy says he has just learned that the hospital routinely takes blood from patients such as Gray upon arrival. So he suggests that they tell Logan police to seek a warrant in order to obtain the hospital’s existing blood sample from Gray.
“So, I think what we‘ll do is ... this isn’t even our case, I’m tired of dealing with it ... we’ll call Logan back, and we’ll tell them, hey —”
Payne interrupts him: ”I’ve already talked to them a couple times.”
“Are they pissed [we can‘t get the blood]?” asks Tracy.
No, Payne says.
“I think we‘re going to release [Wubbels],” Tracy says. ”And we’re going to tell her ... charges are going to be screened on it. Actually, what we’re going to tell her, because I don’t even want to write this [incident] up —”
“We got to [write it up],” Payne corrects him. Several times in the conversation, the fact that Payne‘s body camera is turned on is mentioned. “No, I mean I do [want to write it up],” Tracy quickly says.
Later, after formulating their plan for releasing Wubbels and calling Logan police back, Tracy says: ”Let’s just do that and get the hell out of here.”
Jensen said his detective had talked to Payne about the situation before Payne arrested Wubbels. He said his department had no recordings of the call between the two.
Jensen, who for 25 years also took blood draws along with his officer duties, said it is routine to seek blood from everyone involved in a fatal car crash. The crash involving Gray, a truck driver and reserve police officer from Rigby, Idaho, occurred on U.S. 89/91 near Sardine Canyon, when a man fleeing the Utah Highway Patrol crashed a pickup truck into Gray’s semi head-on. That man, Marcos Torres, 26, died at the scene.
While Logan police could have sought a medical subpoena to get Gray’s blood that was collected by the hospital, Jensen said, they didn’t. Police decided that they did not need Gray’s blood to proceed with the crash investigation, the chief said. He added that there is solid evidence about what occurred — including UHP dash camera footage showing Torres swerving directly into Gray’s semi. The crash remains under investigation.
Jensen said he worked with Payne for several years, when they were both deputies and paramedics for the Davis County Sheriff’s Office early in their careers.
“I’ve worked with him on a number of occasions, but I don’t know why — especially after we said we’ll go in another direction — why [Payne and Tracy] felt compelled to continue,” Jensen said.
Salt Lake City police spokesman Sgt. Greg Wilking said Friday that Chief Mike Brown decided to take Payne off the blood draw team — but not to place him on administrative leave.
The next morning, Assistant Chief Tim Doubt watched the body camera video of the encounter, according to Salt Lake City police spokeswoman Christina Judd. Later in the day, Judd said, Doubt and several legal staffers met with hospital officials and University of Utah police Chief Dale Brophy to apologize and to discuss policies to prevent a similar encounter from occurring again.
Payne and a second officer — believed to be Tracy — should have been placed on administrative leave immediately, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said in a list of frequently asked questions she presented to the City Council on Tuesday. The department’s decision to delay the move until Sept. 1, the day after Wubbels and her attorney released the footage of the arrest, was ”regrettable,” Biskupski said.
Biskupski spokesman Matthew Rojas said Thursday that policies are being developed to keep the mayor in the loop when similar incidents occur in the future. Biskupski has said she was not aware of the encounter until she saw the video on Facebook last week. Biskupski’s chief of staff, Patrick Leary, had early on been broadly informed of the arrest at the hospital, Rojas said, but he ”had no idea of the extent of it.”
Three investigations are underway: one by the police department’s internal affairs division, one by the department’s civilian review board and one by Salt Lake County’s Unified Police Department. On Thursday, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced that he was asking the FBI to also assist on the criminal probe.
Meanwhile, the police department and mayor’s office are continuing efforts to combat an onslaught of public criticism since the video was released a week ago. On Thursday, police Chief Mike Brown appeared on the KUER program RadioWest.
Brown said he was ”alarmed” and “concerned” after seeing the video for the first time last week, though he also added that the incident was an “outlier” that should not reflect on the rest of his department. He said he has tried to stay insulated from the various investigations, especially the internal affairs probe, because he will ”make the final decision,” after those investigators present their findings to him.
The host, Doug Fabrizio, asked how much damage the episode had done to the department’s reputation.
“It hurts. We got a black eye,” Brown said. ”We worked so hard for the past couple years through our training and outreach and everything we’ve done — to take this on the chin? We’ll make it better, but it hurts.”