Salt Lake City police lieutenant demoted after nurse’s arrest loses his appeal

(Screenshot from Salt Lake City Police Department video) Salt Lake City Police Lt. James Tracy was demoted after a video showing Detective Jeff Payne arresting a nurse was released. Tracy was Payne's watch commander during the incident.

Salt Lake City’s Civil Service Commission agrees with the police chief’s decision to demote the watch commander who was on duty when a Salt Lake City police officer arrested a University of Utah Hospital nurse in 2017, an incident that drew international attention.

Lt. James Tracy was demoted to the rank of officer in September 2017 after Police Chief Mike Brown determined Tracy made the “completely unreasonable” order that Detective Jeff Payne arrest nurse Alex Wubbels on July 26, for refusing to allow Payne to draw a patient’s blood. The encounter garnered widespread outrage after body camera footage was released by Wubbels’ attorney in August 2017.

Tracy had appealed the demotion, saying it amounted to “excessive discipline.”

The commission announced its decision Thursday upholding Brown’s decision to demote Tracy two steps to a “police officer III” position, attorney Edward Brass confirmed Friday.

Brass, who is representing Tracy, said they have not yet been given a written decision explaining the commission’s findings.

"We are disappointed in the outcome," he said.

The Civil Service Commission is a three-member body that hears appeals from police and fire department employees who believe their discipline was unfair.

Tracy argued in his appeal that he didn't order Wubbels' arrest that day, but had told Payne only that "he should consider" handcuffing the nurse.

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.

After the video of the arrest went viral, Tracy was demoted and Payne was fired. Payne is still in the process of appealing that decision.

In his appeal, Payne argues the firing was improper due to “lack of prior disciplinary history” and the “circumstances of the events leading up to the disciplinary decision.”

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.

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, and the city gave her a $500,000 settlement so she would not file a lawsuit.

Payne told FOX 13 last November that he believed he had become a “sacrificial lamb” whose firing was a political move made in response to public outcry after the video went viral.

He’s filed paperwork indicating that he intends to sue the city for $1.5 million, but no lawsuit had been filed as of Friday.