An internal affairs investigation into two Salt Lake City police officers involved in the arrest of a University Hospital nurse has found several department policies were violated during the July 26 confrontation.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski announced the investigation findings Wednesday in a news conference at City Hall. In addition, she discussed a recently-completed review by the city’s independent Police Civilian Review Board, which also found the officers violated department policies.
Detective Jeff Payne and his watch commander, Lt. James Tracy, now have 20 days to respond to the internal affairs investigation, after which Chief Mike Brown will use the reports to make a decision on the officers’ future.
Tracy and Payne could face consequences as severe as termination by the department. A criminal investigation into the incident also continues, involving the Unified Police Department, the FBI and the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office.
“The events of July 26 have certainly shaken our community,” said an apologetic Biskupski. “They have strained the trust we have built between the public and the police department. Many of us have been left wondering how this could possibly have happened.”
Payne arrested nurse Alex Wubbels — leaving her in his hot patrol car for about 20 minutes — after she refused to allow him to obtain a blood sample from an unconscious patient injured in a fiery crash in Cache County, citing hospital policy. Tracy was Payne’s supervisor the night of July 26 and responded to the hospital when Payne encountered challenges obtaining the blood.
The department placed them on administrative leave Sept. 1, a day after Wubbels’ attorney released police body camera footage of the arrest.
Full internal affairs reports on Payne and Tracy, obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through a public records request, found both officers violated five policies: conduct unbecoming of an officer; courtesy in public contacts; a policy that states misdemeanor citations should be used instead of arrest ”whenever possible”; violation of the department’s law enforcement code of ethics; and a city-mandated standards of conduct policy.
Investigators additionally found Payne violated a policy requiring officers to file a ”use of force” report after someone is physically detained.
Investigators wrote Payne’s conduct was ”inappropriate, unreasonable, unwarranted, discourteous, disrespectful, and has brought significant disrepute on both you as a Police Officer and on the Department as a whole.
“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 in a manner that inspires the requisite trust, respect, and confidence,” the report adds.
Investigators took a similarly critical view of Tracy’s actions. They noted Wubbels had told them in an interview that she felt Tracy was “ultimately responsible for this incident.”
“[Y]our conduct, including both giving Det. Payne the order to arrest Ms. Wubbels and your subsequent telephone discussions with Hospital administrators, was discourteous and damages the positive working relationships the Department has worked hard to establish with the Hospital and other health care providers,” the report states.
The Civilian Review Board began its probe Sept. 1, led by its administrator/investigator, who is a former FBI agent. The board found Tracy violated his duties as a watch commander, according to department policy. And the review found Payne violated three department policies, including public courtesy, an obligation to abide by policy and orders, and blood draw procedures.
The report says neither Tracy nor Payne fully understood current blood draw laws or hospital policies, and — unlike the nurse, Wubbels — they did not seek legal clarification from the department’s attorneys or other sources.
It also outlines how Payne visibly “lost control of his emotions” and his “self-control” over the course of the incident — yet no other law enforcement officers at the scene, including those from Salt Lake City and the University of Utah, thought to intervene.
The report recommends issuing reminders to officers on how to defuse similar situations and urges training sessions on search and seizure laws.
Salt Lake City police have said the internal investigation began within 24 hours of the episode. Procedures and policies have changed — or are in the process of being changed — at the police department, the mayor’s office and the hospital as a result.
Biskupski several times Wednesday refuted certain allegations against the department and her office. And she declined to say what repercussions she thinks the officers should face. “I want to make sure I don‘t put a finger on the scale,” she said.
“Many in the public have the unfortunate perception that this incident would not have been handled appropriately had it not been for the release of the video by Ms. Wubbels‘ attorney two weeks ago. This is not true,” Biskupski said.
Police officials met with Wubbels and University Hospital officials to discuss what went wrong. Payne and Tracy, however, were not placed on leave until the day after the video was released, a step Biskupski has said should have happened sooner.
The mayor also has said she did not know of the episode until the video was released, something she should have been made aware of earlier. And the Civilian Review Board, in its report, pointed out it was not informed of the incident until the body cam footage was released publicly, “due to an oversight within Internal Affairs.”
“The failure to recognize the scope of the incident and to take certain assuring and transparent steps has cast doubt in the minds of many,” Biskupski said. ”As mayor, I acknowledge this and work to change that perception.”
Payne went to University Hospital at the request of the Logan Police Department to draw blood from 43-year-old reserve police officer William Gray, who had been involved in a collision the same day in northern Utah while driving a semi truck. The crash on U.S. 89/91 near Sardine Canyon occurred 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.
Wubbels’ attorney, Karra Porter, attended Biskupski’s news conference Wednesday. She said afterward she was relieved to hear there were policy violation findings for Payne and Tracy.
Porter said when Tracy arrived at the hospital, he refused to allow Wubbels to speak and instead “proceeded to loom over her and to lecture her” as she sat in the police car. She said Tracy then shut the door and leaned against the vehicle while Wubbels sat there “baking” inside.
“It didn’t get better when the guy in charge showed up,” Porter said. “It got worse.”
When asked what would be a satisfactory outcome, Porter responded, “We have said all along that we believe that to regain public trust, that 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.”
Porter said she believes Wubbels should be compensated for what happened but that the nurse’s No. 1 priority for now is “to make sure all health care workers, not just herself, are safe.”