You’ve likely seen the video. A Salt Lake City detective wrestling a screaming nurse out of the University of Utah emergency room more than a year ago. And you may know he lost his job over the incident. But you haven’t heard what Detective Jeff Payne has to say about his confrontation with nurse Alex Wubbels, which made headlines around the world.
He wants you to know that he doesn’t think he did anything wrong and he isn’t sorry. He’s planning to sue the city for $1.5 million and he criticizes the police chief, who he thinks should have defended him.
But Payne said he doesn’t have any ill will toward Wubbels.
“She was doing her job,” he said. “I was doing my job. And unfortunately, it conflicted. And I am the one who bears most of the burden for it.”
Payne sat down with FOX 13 for his first interview since Wubbel’s attorney last August released police body camera footage that showed the arrest, which drew widespread condemnation.
On July 26, 2017, Wubbels refused to allow Payne to draw blood from an unconscious patient who had been involved in a fiery crash in Cache County earlier in the day.
Wubbels pointed out that the crash victim was not under arrest, that Payne did not have a warrant to draw the blood and that he could not obtain consent from the patient because the man was unconscious.
Payne insisted he had implied consent to get the blood and eventually arrested Wubbels. He handcuffed her and placed her in a police car outside the hospital, then released her after about 20 minutes. Charges were never filed against Wubbels.
The former detective told FOX 13 reporter Dora Scheidell that he had been at the hospital for about three hours trying to sort out the situation. He insists he was only following orders that day — his boss, Lt. James Tracy, had ordered that he arrest Wubbels if she didn’t let him draw the patient’s blood.
Wubbels was also following her boss’s instruction. It was when a hospital administrator, who Wubbels had called and put on speaker phone, told Payne he was “making a huge mistake” that the officer said he felt he had no choice.
“I didn’t want it to go that route,” Payne said. “The reason it took as long as it did to get to that point, I was hoping I could do anything to avoid arresting her. But when the barrier was put up by her boss, I felt there was no other alternative than to do what I had been ordered to do.”
So he told Wubbels she was under arrest. Payne’s body camera video shows her backing away as Payne reaches out to grab her wrist. The detective then drags Wubbels out of the hospital as she screams, “Help! Help! Somebody help me! Stop! Stop! I did nothing wrong!”
Asked about whether he felt the arrest was too forceful, Payne said he was just following his training: Use force one step higher than the person you are arresting. He believed Wubbels was “resisting arrest” as she backed away, so he had to grab her.
“She kept struggling with me,” he said. “So I had to use that little bit of force to get her out the door and get this situation under control.”
As soon as the video was made public on Aug. 31, 2017, Payne and the police department became the focus of a barrage of criticism and anger. The footage was watched millions of times around the world, and the department received hundreds of emails and thousands of emails. Some even called 911 to complain.
“I couldn’t believe this incident went worldwide,” Payne told FOX 13. “I still don’t understand why it would go worldwide for this. There’s a lot more serious cases out there that you don’t hear about. Mine happened to hit the internet and it went worldwide and all of the social media jumped in and everybody who hates cops has something negative to say.”
Weeks later, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski announced an internal affairs investigation had found Payne and Tracy had violated several department policies. Payne was fired and Tracy demoted to the rank of officer. Both men still are actively appealing the punishment to the Salt Lake City Civil Service Commission.
Payne said as the fervor grew last summer, an attorney who had represented him told reporters that Payne wanted to apologize. He thinks that lead to the city giving Wubbels a $500,000 settlement so she would not file a lawsuit.
But he said he never intended to say he was sorry.
“I don’t think there is anything that I need to apologize for,” he said.
Wubbels’ attorney did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
‘The sacrificial lamb’
After nearly 30 years at the Salt Lake City Police Department, Payne’s career was over. He was also fired from his part-time job as a paramedic.
He felt betrayed, especially by Chief Mike Brown. The chief should have stood up for his department, Payne said, but instead he felt Brown vilified him. And once the mayor got involved, Payne felt the situation became political — and he became “the sacrificial lamb.”
He lost his livelihood and his career as a police officer. He struggled to find a well-paying job — ”Nobody even wants to consider me,” he said — but has found a job that pays just above minimum wage.
“My life was destroyed because of this,” he said. “And I don’t know how many years it will take to have some sort of peace to rebuild my life because of this incident.”
Sgt. Brandon Shearer, a police spokesman, disagreed that Payne was punished because of public outrage. He pointed to the chief’s letter where the discipline is outlined, saying Payne made questionable decisions when other avenues could have been taken.
“He could have asked her to step outside,” Shearer said. “Or step into another room, rather than arresting her in the middle of the emergency room.”
Shearer said Payne also should have informed his supervisor of one critical development: that he had called Logan police, who had been investigating the crash, and officers told him not to worry if he couldn’t get the blood. That might have changed Tracy’s decision to order an arrest, Shearer said.
Payne said that while he was in the moment, he had forgotten to pass on the information from Logan police to Tracy.
Shearer said Brown still stands by his decision to fire Payne.
“It was the chief’s decision,” he said. “And no one else’s.”
Payne in September filed a notice with the city that he planned to sue, according to documents obtained by FOX 13. He plans to seek $1.5 million associated with lost wages and benefits, emotional distress and defamation of character.
He believes the situation could have ended much differently if only the police department had given him better training on blood draw laws. And he called his firing “extremely excessive,” saying department leaders instead could have offered him training to correct any mistakes they felt he made.
Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is a content partner with FOX 13.