Ex-Salt Lake City officer who arrested Utah nurse Alex Wubbels over blood draw says in lawsuit he was made the ‘fall guy’

(Photo courtesy of Karra Porter) A 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, July 26, 2017. Jeff Payne, the former Salt Lake City police officer who handcuffed Wubbels, has been hired to work at the Weber County jail.

The Salt Lake City police officer who was fired after handcuffing a nurse who tried to stop him from performing a blood draw on a patient without a warrant is suing his former employer and the city.

The long-promised lawsuit, filed Thursday in 3rd District Court, describes 27-year police veteran Jeff Payne as a rooster in a “cockfight staged and orchestrated by the persons in charge at the Salt Lake City Police Department and those in charge of the burn unit at the University of Utah.”

The other bird, the lawsuit states, was nurse Alex Wubbels. Both were employees “merely doing what they were told to do," it says.

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 said 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.

Video of Wubbels’ arrest spread across the internet and made national news. Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown later fired Payne. Charges were never filed against Wubbels.

The lawsuit says Payne only arrested Wubbels because his supervisor, Lt. James Tracy, told him to. If Payne had it his way, he would have left the hospital — and tried to, the lawsuit states, but Tracy allegedly told him to stay and to arrest Wubbels if she continued to interfere with the investigation.

The suit alleges that instead of leadership taking the blame for the fallout after the video went viral, Payne became a “pariah and fall guy" for the department.

The lawsuit also states that Payne followed guidance in the department’s policy manual in making the arrest and that he shouldn’t have been fired. It adds that the department changed its policies for blood draws after the confrontation and subsequent criticism, and cites this change as evidence that the department knew its policy was bad.

“Officer Payne took the blame for what was apparently an out-of-date Policy Handbook and wholescale failure to train officers on what the law was and how it would apply to the given situation,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also accuses the city of prematurely releasing video footage of the confrontation in order to turn public opinion against Payne.

“The purpose of the video was to shock the public into thinking that Officer Payne was a badge-heavy unstable officer when nothing could be further from the truth,” it states.

The lawsuit accuses Salt Lake City police and the city of breach of contract, breach of implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, wrongful termination, defamation-libel and/or slander and false light publicity.

Salt Lake City police did not immediately respond to The Salt Lake Tribune’s request for comment Friday evening. The attorney who represented Payne when the lawsuit was filed withdrew from the case on Friday, citing the “personal threat” the case imposes on his wife and children after he said the court denied his motion to keep the case private.

Payne, contacted via email, also did not immediately respond to The Tribune on Friday night.

Payne is seeking more than $300,000 in damages. He was recently hired as a part-time civilian employee at the Weber County jail.