SLC police lieutenant demoted after nurse’s arrest appeals, says discipline was ‘excessive’

James Tracy also claims officers were never trained on the blood draw policy agreed upon between hospital and police department.

(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 watch commander who was on duty when a Salt Lake City police officer arrested a University Hospital nurse last summer is appealing his demotion, claiming it was “excessive discipline.”

Lt. James Tracy was demoted to the rank of officer last month after the police chief determined Tracy made the “completely unreasonable” order that Detective Jeff Payne arrest nurse Alex Wubbels on July 26, after she refused to allow Payne to draw a patient’s blood. The encounter garnered national outrage after body camera footage was released by Wubbels’ attorney in August.

Tracy’s attorney, Edward Brass, filed documents Oct. 13 appealing Chief Mike Brown’s decision. He provided a copy of the documents to The Tribune on Wednesday.

The appeal, which is addressed to the Salt Lake City Civil Service Commission, claims that Tracy didn’t order Wubbels’ arrest that day, but had told Payne only that “he should consider” handcuffing the nurse.

“That detective advised Lt. Tracy by telephone that a nurse was obstructing his effort to draw blood,” Brass wrote in the appeal.

(Courtesy of Salt Lake City Police Department) Salt Lake City police Lt. James Tracy

Tracy also claims in the appeal that Brown’s letter of discipline did not address the fact that the blood draw policy agreed upon between the hospital and the police department was never made known to Tracy — or any officer his level or below.

“Lt. Tracy was operating under an outmoded policy and one that was clearly inconsistent with state law when it came to drawing blood from unconscious or deceased accident victims,” the appeal states. “He had been given no training in the new policy and had no reason to believe he could deviate from the policy he believed to be in effect at the time.”

Tracy believed blood needed to be drawn from the victim immediately, according to the appeal.

And given Tracy’s scant discipline history — a 1997 reprimand for when he transported two handcuffed people across the city and released them without documenting the event — the decision to demote him two steps to a “police officer III” position was “excessive,” according to the appeal.

Payne, who was fired from his job, also is appealing Brown’s decision. His attorney, Greg Skordas, wrote in his Oct. 12 appeal that the ex-detective believes the firing was improper due to “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

His disciplinary history includes a reprimand for sexually harassing another department employee “over an extended period of time” several years ago and a 1995 violation of department polices tied to a vehicle pursuit.

Hearing dates have not yet been set for the two officers.

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. The men will also have a chance to present their own evidence or call witnesses to support their claims that the discipline was improper.

In Tracy’s appeal, Brass listed nearly a dozen potential witnesses who could testify — including the police chief, three deputy chiefs, four other lieutenants and “presently unknown University of Utah security officers and police officers.”

Payne’s attorney said in his appeal that their proposed witness list includes Tracy, a fellow police officer who responded to the scene, and an officer from the Logan Police Department.

It was Logan police who sought blood from an unconscious University Hospital patient involved in a fatal 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.

Skordas has said he believes the police chief “reacted to a lot of public pressure” in calling for the detective‘s termination.