Watch commander on duty during nurse arrest has been placed on leave; attorney says he’s received death threats

SLC police Lt. James Tracy and Detective Jeff Payne were both put on leave Sept. 1 — the same day a criminal investigation began.

(Screenshot from Salt Lake City Police Department video) Salt Lake City Police Lt. James Tracy was placed on leave several days after a video showing Detective Jeff Payne arresting a nurse was released. Tracy was Payne's watch commander during the incident.

As criticism continues after the surfacing of a video showing a Salt Lake City police detective arresting a nurse who refused to draw blood from an unconscious patient, an attorney for one of the officers asked for the public’s patience as several investigations take place.

Detective Jeff Payne and another officer were put on administrative leave Sept. 1 — a day after nurse Alex Wubbels’ attorney released police body camera footage of the arrest. A criminal investigation was launched that same day at the request of the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office.

Defense attorney Edward Brass confirmed Friday that the other officer on leave is Payne’s watch commander, Lt. James Tracy.

Brass, who is representing Tracy with co-counsel Kim Cordova, said Friday evening that it’s clear people have had an “intense” reaction to the video showing the nurse‘s arrest. The lieutenant, he said, has shut down his social media accounts after receiving death threats. His adult son, too, has been the subject of threatening messages.

The defense attorney said that as the district attorney’s office has asked for the public’s patience as several investigations move forward, he asks for that same respect for Tracy.

Brass noted the growing number of reviews — a criminal investigation, a probe by the FBI for any civil rights violations under the color of law, an internal review with the police department and an inquiry by a civilian review board — and said it was “too soon” to comment on the situation any further.

The defense attorneys have yet to receive any reports or evidence about the situation, he added.

“We need to know more about what’s going on,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

Tracy was the watch commander on duty July 26 when Payne went to University Hospital at the request of the Logan Police Department to draw blood from a patient, 43-year-old William Gray, who had been involved in a fiery collision the same day in northern Utah while driving a semi truck.

Wubbels told Payne, according to the footage, that it is against hospital policy for police to take blood from a patient unless the patient gives consent, is under arrest, or if the police have a warrant.

Payne can be heard on body camera footage telling another officer that if Wubbels “interferes in any way” with the blood draw, he has directions from the watch commander to arrest her.

After the nurse consults with several hospital officials and repeats the policy, Payne tells her she is under arrest and grabs her, pulling her arms behind her back and handcuffing her. The footage shows the detective dragging Wubbels out of the hospital and putting her inside a patrol car as she screams for help while other police officers and hospital security stand by.

Tracy came to the hospital after Wubbels’ arrest and scolded the nurse, according to the footage, telling her she was trying to give “legal defense” and was interfering with Payne doing his job. In the video, the lieutenant tells Wubbels that the patient they want blood from is a victim in the crash and they are “trying to find out if there is anything in his system.”

The nurse responds by telling Tracy that he has already been given pain medication, which would show up in the blood draw.

“If we’re breaking the law,” Tracy tells Wubbels, “If we’re doing wrong, there are civil remedies. It’s called taking fruit of the poisonous tree. If we took his blood illegally, it all goes away, alright? So there are civil remedies.”

In a later conversation with Payne, Tracy tells the detective that he doesn’t think the arrest is going “to stick” and formulates a plan to release Wubbel and tell her “charges are going to be screened on it,” according to body camera footage.

Payne’s attorney, Greg Skordas, said Friday that federal regulation requires a blood sample when a driver with a commercial driver license (CDL) is involved in a fatal accident. By getting a CDL, a driver is assumed to have consented to a blood draw, according to the attorney.

In his written report on the confrontation, submitted the night of July 26, Payne said the reason for getting the sample from Gray was “to protect him, not punish him.”