SLCPD detective who arrested nurse had been disciplined for alleged sexual harassment and other violations, records show

Public records shed light on long careers — both the good and bad — of Jeff Payne and James Tracy.

Alex Wubbels, seen here in various images from police body cam video, was arrested after explaining to police that she couldn't draw a blood sample from an unconscious person at University Hospital. A Salt Lake City police detective asked for a blood sample. After explaining to the detective that the police needed a warrant, consent from the unconscious patient or that the patient needed to be under arrest before the blood sample could be drawn, she was arrested.

The controversial arrest of a University Hospital nurse wasn’t the first time Salt Lake City police Detective Jeff Payne had faced an internal investigation for violating department policies, newly released records show.

About four years ago, Payne received a written reprimand for allegedly sexually harassing another department employee “over an extended period of time,” internal police records state.

And in 1995, Payne was found to have violated multiple department policies related to a vehicle pursuit that involved the Utah Highway Patrol. He was suspended 80 hours without pay.

Payne and another officer, Lt. James Tracy, have been the focus of several investigations in recent weeks after Payne aggressively arrested University Hospital nurse Alex Wubbels on July 26, acting on the directions of Tracy. Wubbels, citing hospital policy, refused to allow Payne to obtain a blood sample from an unconscious patient injured in a fiery crash in Cache County.

The resulting arrest drew widespread outrage when Wubbels’ attorney released body camera footage of the encounter two weeks ago.

Public documents recently obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune shed new light on both officers’ law enforcement careers, covering both the good and bad, including department policy violations and various commendations.

(Salt Lake City Police Department/Courtesy of Karra Porter) 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. The Utah police department is making changes after the officer dragged Wubbels out of the hospital in handcuffs when she refused to allow blood to be drawn from an unconscious patient.

‘Harassing behavior’

A May 2013 letter to Payne from then-Chief Chris Burbank states another Salt Lake City Police Department employee testified Payne had harassed her for a long time.

“Your harassing behavior was severe and persistent and created a hostile, intimidating work environment for this employee, significantly interfering with her ability to work,” the letter states. Burbank added the behavior was “particularly serious” because Payne made unwanted physical contact and sent a “disparaging email.”

The chief found Payne violated several department policies, including one barring discrimination and sexual harassment. The letter served as Payne’s reprimand, the chief wrote, adding that any further misconduct could result in termination. Additional details of the case were not included.

Payne’s sexual harassment reprimand came around the time another sexual harassment scandal was roiling the department. Several women in the department said a deputy police chief, Rick Findlay, sexually harassed them, which prompted an internal affairs investigation in late 2013. The episode led to Burbank’s resignation two years later, when then-Mayor Ralph Becker said Burbank had mishandled the complaints.

Details of the 1995 complaint against Payne are unclear. But it involved his actions during a police chase late at night that included UHP. He was found to have violated several policies, including a vehicle pursuit policy and the department’s code of ethics.

“Jeff, I am disappointed in your behavior on this incident, as I believe you are,” then-Assistant Chief Larry Stott wrote in a letter, adding that Payne had been cooperative with the investigation. “I don’t believe this is indicative of the kind of work you do or the standard you hold yourself to.”

Indeed, Payne has received a number of commendations over the years for his work as a police officer. Dating back to 1990, they include his “kind” work with a homeless family, and his sharp work over the years solving multiple criminal cases and arresting fugitives. In 2007, he was commended for “professionalism and dedication” after clearing a burglary case. And in 2011, he and another officer were praised for their “interviewing skills and tenacity” after solving a series of burglaries.

In 1998, Payne was honored with a “Purple Heart” award by the Utah Peace Officers Association after being shot in the shoulder by a suspect during a traffic stop, according to news reports at the time.

Payne worked off and on as a reserve deputy and paramedic for the Davis County Sheriff’s Office over the years. The department reported he had no record of discipline. In addition, the detective worked as a part-time paramedic for decades with Gold Cross Ambulance. Company officials said he had a clean employment record, but ultimately fired him earlier this month after video of the nurse arrest came to light. The footage showed Payne threatening to “take good patients elsewhere” and send “transients” to the hospital in his Gold Cross job. 

Rising through the ranks

Tracy, meanwhile, also has spent decades with the Salt Lake City Police Department. He received one formal reprimand over the years, in 1997. A letter from a police captain to Tracy said Tracy had transported two handcuffed people across the city, then released them and never documented the incident, including why they had been arrested. An investigation found he violated two department policies.

According to his LinkedIn page, Tracy has moved through several department leadership positions in recent years, including watch commander, deputy commander of the patrol bureau, and most recently an auxiliary intelligence commander. He is pursuing a master’s in criminal justice degree at Columbia College in Murray, the profile states.

Both department veterans, Payne makes about $129,000 annually in total compensation and Tracy about $150,000, according to Utah’s Right To Know.

Both officers now face the results of internal affairs and Civilian Review Board reports, released earlier this week. They have until early next month to respond to the findings, which include the violation of about a half-dozen department policies when they arrested Wubbels. Chief Mike Brown ultimately will decide their future with the department. A criminal investigation into the episode by the Unified Police Department, FBI and Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office is ongoing. 

The officers’ attorneys were not immediately available for comment Friday night.

Payne went to the hospital July 26 to obtain a blood sample, at the request of Logan police, from William Gray, a reserve officer in the Rigby, Idaho, police department who suffered burns when the semi he was driving was struck by a suspect fleeing from UHP troopers. That man, Marcos Torres, 26, died at the scene.

Gray remains in the hospital burn unit in critical condition, hospital officials said this week. Logan police have said they never did obtain Gray’s blood.

Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle contributed to this story.