Salt Lake City detective officially appeals firing after nurse’s arrest

(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.

The former Salt Lake City police officer who arrested a University Hospital nurse this summer wants his job of 27 years back.

Detective Jeff Payne’s attorney, Greg Skordas, filed documents late Thursday appealing Chief Mike Brown’s decision to terminate Payne earlier this week. The appeal is addressed to the Salt Lake City Civil Service Commission.

The Civil Service Commission is a three-member body that hears appeals from police and fire department employees who argue their discipline was unfair. At a hearing, the city is charged with proving that the discipline was fair and supported by facts. Payne will also have a chance to present his own evidence or call witnesses to support his claim that the discipline was improper.

Brown sent Payne a 17-page letter Tuesday explaining why he was being fired following Payne’s controversial July 26 arrest of nurse Alex Wubbels. The encounter garnered national outrage after body camera footage was released by Wubbels’ attorney.

“I am deeply troubled by your lack of sound professional judgment and your discourteous, disrespectful, and unwarranted behavior, which unnecessarily escalated a situation that could and should have been resolved in a manner far different from the course of action you chose to pursue,” Brown wrote to Payne.

About half of Utahns agree with Brown’s decision to fire the detective, according to a Salt Lake Tribune/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll conducted this week. Fifty-three percent said Payne should be fired for arresting Wubbels, while 40 percent said they believed Payne should be disciplined — but allowed to keep his job. Only two percent said he should not be disciplined, and five percent said they didn’t know.

In Payne’s appeal, Skordas writes the ex-detective “believes the decision to terminate his employment with Salt Lake City Police Department was improper,” due to a “lack of prior disciplinary history” and the “circumstances of the events leading up to the disciplinary decision.”

(Courtesy of Salt Lake City Police Department) Salt Lake City police Detective Jeff Payne

Payne, however, does have prior discipline on his record. It includes a reprimand for sexually harassing another department employee “over an extended period of time” several years ago and a 1995 violation of department policies tied to a vehicle pursuit.

The request for appeal includes a proposed witness list. On it are Lt. James Tracy — who was Payne’s supervisor the day of the arrest and was demoted by the chief after the nurse’s arrest — as well as Officer Denton Harper, who responded to the scene of the arrest, and an officer from the Logan Police Department.

It was Logan police who sought blood from an unconscious University Hospital patient involved in a Cache County crash. Payne was dispatched to the hospital to get the blood, and Wubbels, citing hospital policy, refused to allow Payne to take it.

The appeal request also states Payne plans to introduce several exhibits to the Civil Service Commission, including a copy of department blood draw policies and Payne’s disciplinary history.

Skordas has said he believes the chief “reacted to a lot of public pressure” in calling for the detective‘s termination. The department was hammered with phone calls and emails after the body camera footage was released, and the story made the rounds in national and international news outlets.

The appeal request also requests several records be provided by Salt Lake City, such as records used by Brown in deciding Payne should be fired, as well as correspondence between Brown and Mayor Jackie Biskupski regarding Payne’s termination.

The chief demoted Lt. Tracy to the rank of police officer effective this week. Tracy’s attorney, Edward Brass, has said his client will also appeal the demotion to the commission. Brass has until early next week to file the appeal.