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Alex Wubbels

Thus far, publically available information suggests Chief Mike Brown and his fellow Salt Lake City police administrators tried to sweep the arrest of Nurse Alex Wubbels, and the damage it caused between the police and medical communities, under the rug. Tried, that is, until Wubbels’ attorney released the video of Det. Jeff Payne’s abusive and unprofessional behavior, which immediately went viral. They’ve tried to suggest the delay was some unspecified fault in Internal Affairs which has been rectified and will never happen again, but I doubt many will buy that.

A part of Payne’s argument has thus far been that he was compelled to seek the blood of an unconscious William Gray because the Logan Police Department was demanding it. It now appears that assertion is less than accurate. The Salt Lake Tribune reports:

Salt Lake City police Detective Jeff Payne’s body camera footage confirms Logan police Chief Gary Jensen’s assertion that his officers did not push to get blood from the victim of a fiery crash in Cache County.[skip]

Jensen said one of his detectives investigating the crash told Payne not to worry about pushing for the blood draw because Logan could get the blood through other means. He said Logan officers didn’t initially realize the crash victim, 43-year-old William Gray, was unconscious and thus unable to consent to a blood draw.

‘My investigator [tells Payne], ‘Hey, don’t worry about it, we’ll go another route. No worries,’ Jensen told The Salt Lake Tribune Wednesday.

The Internal Affairs Review Board’s report notes: 

When Ofc.–name excluded–inquired as to why you hadn’t attempted to secure a warrant, you told him you had already spoken with the Logan Police Department and no probable cause existed to support the issuance of one.

Yet Payne continued to relentlessly press for Gray’s blood, citing “exigent circumstances” and the Utah implied consent law, as his authority, which he buttressed with multiple threats to arrest Wubbels and anyone else that might try to interfere with him. This is not looking good for Payne:

Footage from Payne’s body cam paints a similar picture of his discussions with Logan police about the blood. As Wubbels sits handcuffed in Payne’s patrol car nearby, Payne and his watch commander, Lt. James Tracy — who ordered Payne to get the blood in the first place — confer about the escalating situation.

Tracy says he has just learned that the hospital routinely takes blood from patients such as Gray upon arrival. So he suggests that they tell Logan police to seek a warrant in order to obtain the hospital’s existing blood sample from Gray.

‘So, I think what we‘ll do is … this isn’t even our case, I’m tired of dealing with it … we’ll call Logan back, and we’ll tell them, hey —‘

Payne interrupts him: ‘I’ve already talked to them a couple times.

All the publically available evidence indicates Payne, despite knowing he had no probable cause, and despite being told by the Logan Police not to pursue the matter, pushed blindly onward. Police agencies acting on a request from another agency commonly do their best to honor it, but not if it requires a violation of the law, and certainly not if it would damage the relationships between local agencies. This, too, is not helpful to Payne or Lt. Tracy:

I think we‘re going to release [Wubbels],’ Tracy says. ‘And we’re going to tell her … charges are going to be screened on it. Actually, what we’re going to tell her, because I don’t even want to write this [incident] up —‘

‘We got to [write it up],’ Payne corrects him. Several times in the conversation, the fact that Payne‘s body camera is turned on is mentioned. ‘No, I mean I do [want to write it up],’ Tracy quickly says.

I’ve been somewhat critical of the mandatory use of body cameras, but here, they catch Tracy’s intention to sweep the incident under the rug, and to continue to try to intimidate Wubbels, even though he has, belatedly, realized they had no cause to arrest her.

Later, after formulating their plan for releasing Wubbels and calling Logan police back, Tracy says: ‘Let’s just do that and get the hell out of here.

A classic example of closing the barn door after the horses escaped. More bad news for Payne and Tracy:

Jensen said he worked with Payne for several years, when they were both deputies and paramedics for the Davis County Sheriff’s Office early in their careers.

‘I’ve worked with him on a number of occasions, but I don’t know why — especially after we said we’ll go in another direction — why [Payne and Tracy] felt compelled to continue,’ Jensen said.

No kidding.

Payne and a second officer — believed to be Tracy — should have been placed on administrative leave immediately, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said in a list of frequently asked questions she presented to the City Council on Tuesday. The department’s decision to delay the move until Sept. 1, the day after Wubbels and her attorney released the footage of the arrest, was ‘regrettable,’ Biskupski said.

The regrets have not yet been expended. We are still learning what Payne said during the incident. ABC News adds—perhaps—some additional information:

Wubbels’ attorney, Karra Porter, said the state’s implied-consent law ‘has no relevance in this case whatsoever under anyone’s interpretation. … The officer here admitted on the video and to another officer on the scene that he knew there was no probable cause for a warrant.

All evidence backs Porter’s assertion, and Payne’s admission is explicit, not implied by other statements. We are also seeing how an internal investigation should be done, as the local Fox station reports:

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski announced Wednesday that a pair of internal investigations into the arrest of Utah nurse Alex Wubbels have concluded, and both panels have ‘sustained findings’ against the two officers directly involved in the arrest.

Biskupski said now that the Internal Affairs investigation has concluded, state law and existing contracts stipulate that both officers have up to 20 days to respond to the findings before Police Chief Mike Brown makes a decision on the officers’ employment status.

This too is bad news for Payne and Tracy:

Police Chief Brown and Mayor Biskupski

I also want to start by once again reiterating my personal apology to Nurse Alex Wubbels for the way she was treated by officers of the Salt Lake City Police Department as she attempted to do her job, advocating for a patient,’ she said.

Biskupski said an Internal Affairs investigation into the arrest began the day after on July 27. A second, independent Civilian Review Board investigation began on September 1, after the release of video of the arrest on August 31.[skip]

The Internal Affairs investigation sustained findings regarding several possible policy violations, Biskupski said: Conduct unbecoming by a police employee, courtesy in public context, policies regarding misdemeanor arrests, situations requiring a report, the department’s law enforcement code of ethics, and the city policy regarding standards of conduct for employees. [skip]

The review board agreed with the IA findings on three of the six possible policy violations against Det. Jeff Payne and with one of the five against Lt. James Tracy.

The violations cited in the article related to common policies found in virtually any police policy manual. The policies involved may be found here.  Particularly relevant are the policies relating to documenting uses of force and documenting an officer’s actions in an official report. Obviously, the two panels believed Payne did not adequately honor those policies, and that he engaged in minimizing his actual conduct, and/or was not entirely truthful about it. The Deseret News notes:

In its report, the Civilian Review Board found that neither Payne nor Tracy knew what the current law was concerning blood draws, that Payne wrongly let his frustration and emotions get the best of him, and that he wrongly grabbed Wubbels and forcefully pushed her out of the hospital without giving her a chance to calmly put her hands behind her back and submit to an arrest.

‘It is very clear that detective Payne had become too emotionally involved in the confrontation with (Wubbels),’ the report found. ‘His actions were loud, aggressive and overly mission driven.

“Overly mission driven.” Translation: badge-heavy, single-minded and mindlessly aggressive.

The report reiterates that Payne ‘very clearly lost control of his emotions,’ calls his behavior ‘poor,’ and says his physical actions toward Wubbels ‘were needless and overly aggressive for the situation.’

The report also commends Wubbels who ‘remained remarkably cool during this confrontation’ and for standing up ‘for the rights of her patient and to protect her hospital from potential liability in a very professional manner. Unlike the officers, (Wubbels) sought advice from her supervisors.’

The report says Wubbels was ‘calm, level-headed, unemotional and professional.’

The Civilian Review Board said both Payne and Tracy should have been up to date on department policies. But at the very least, after Wubbels printed out a copy of the criteria for blood draws that had been previously agreed upon by the department and the hospital, the officers should have ‘recognized something was amiss and immediately sought legal clarification from reliable sources,’ the report says.

This is as I’ve previously written. Payne was not only a paramedic of long standing, he was specifically assigned to blood drawing duties by his police agency. He, and his superiors in the ambulance service and police department, were responsible for knowing such things. Is it possible both agencies could have failed to inform Payne of proper procedure and the Supreme Court decision only a year old directly relating to blood draws? Considering the very nature of their agencies and Payne’s duties, that would require incredible, coincidental incompetence by all involved.

The board said a third officer who was with Payne should have called for a Code 909, which is used for officers who become too emotionally involved in a situation. The purpose of a Code 909, according to Salt Lake police policy, is to temporarily remove an officer from a situation, ‘to calm down’ and ‘collect your thoughts.

A good idea, but often impractical. An officer like Payne–caught up in contempt-of- cop fever–is unlikely to be in an emotional state that would allow him to temporarily back down. Such an officer would be unlikely to listen to anyone other than a supervisor, and Lt. Tracy did not arrive until after Payne had already arrested Wubbels.

The board also noted that none of the other officers present in the hospital — including University of Utah police — did anything to intervene. At one point, the report states, ‘as expected, the private hospital security staff were nothing more than observers.

It is important here to understand the relationship between police officers and security officers. Police officers generally have far more training than security personnel, and above all else, they have arrest powers. Security officers do not. Police officers—not the best or smartest—tend to look down on security officers, and treat them with disdain. It would take an unusual security officer indeed to directly interfere with a police officer. Not only would they be likely to lose their job, they would almost certainly be arrested by officers that consider them nothing more than pathetic police wannabes. This would be particularly true of security officers watching someone like Payne who was becoming increasingly agitated and out of control. Also, because security officers are also often armed, a raging, unhinged police officer might very well shoot them, claiming their armed status justified the use of deadly force.

Wubbels’ attorney, Karra Porter, questioned Wednesday why the Civilian Review Board was never asked to get involved until Sept. 1, after Wubbels publicly released the police body camera videos of her arrest.

She also questioned Payne’s police report in which he describes ‘reaching’ for Wubbels while arresting her and not wanting to create a scene in the hospital.

‘Some of this is just completely contrary to what we see on the video,’ Porter said. ‘This description defies what is on the video. I mean, the statement when detective Payne says, ‘I didn’t want to have a scene in the ER.’ Uh, all of that is belied on the video.

Porter is absolutely correct. I’ve seen the video of Payne’s arrest. Not only did he make a serious scene, he grabbed Wubbels, and violently forced her out of the building, through a set of automatic doors, and outside, where he forcibly handcuffed her and unceremoniously stuffed her in a police car. He did not calmly ask her to submit, he attacked without provocation or necessity.

The SLCPD’s Internal Affairs report on the incident states:

You then reached for Ms. Wubbels’ phone with both hand and, when she backed away (still holding her pone), you said ‘no, we’re done, we’re done you’re under arrest, you’re going [to jail] we’re done.’ As Ms. Wubbels continued to back up, you moved toward her, grabbed her with both hands, spun her around, and forcefully states ‘I said we’re done!’

According to your police report, you grasped Ms. Wubbel’s right wrist with your right hands, twisted her body so she was facing the emergency Room doors, used your left hand to grasp her shoulder, and pushed her out through the doors. While physically pushing her outside, you again twice forcefully told a screaming Ms. Wubbels ‘I said we’re done!’ Once outside, you held. Ms. Wubbels (who still had the by-no-crimpled Form in her hand) against the wall and placed her in handcuffs.

The Civilian Review Board’s report adds:

It is clear when reviewing the actions of S (Payne) with C (Wubbels) that he did use some force by grasping C around her waist and forcibly removing her from the hospital. He also can be seen using a control hold on her hand/arm in order to restrain her so that handcuffs can be applied.

I assume “C” stands for “complainant” and “S” for “suspect.” The same report quotes from Payne’s SLCPD report:

I advised her that she was under arrest and I reached for her right wrist so that she could be placed into handcuffs. She pulled away and as I tried harder to control her she continued to try to get away. Due to us still being in the ER I didn’t want to have a scene at that location. I was able to get a grasp on her right wrist with my right hand and twisted her so she was facing the ER doors. I then used my left hand to hold onto her shoulder and I pushed her out of the ER through the doors so we were outside and not causing problems in the ER. I was then able to hold her against at [sic] wall and place handcuffs on her.

Wubbels being manhandled by Payne.

Considering Payne was brutally manhandling a small, frightened and non-violent nurse, and his repeated, loud and angry outbursts, his assertion of trying to handle things quietly is, to put it mildly, not credible.

Does this mean Payne lied in his report? I have seen only that portion of the report quoted in the Civilian Review Board’s report. In addition, Payne’s interview, and that of Tracy is completely redacted. In fact, quite a bit of the report is completely redacted. What is visible, however, indicated that Payne was very careful to minimize his actions, and to put Wubbel’s reaction of backing away at his sudden, angry lunge at her, in the worst possible light. Police officers don’t have this latitude, and virtually any agency would, in the light of the body camera video and other evidence, conclude Payne, in material ways, falsified his report. That, in virtually any police agency, is a firing offense. There is leeway in such matters to allow for slightly differing perceptions—that’s normal—but this is far outside the permissible boundaries of differing interpretations of the same event, particularly where video absolutely contradicts the officer’s version.

The Internal Affairs report also clears up when Payne made his foolish comment about his paramedic duties, though it is possible he made it more than once and in two different places:

Later, while talking with Lt. Tracy, you wondered aloud how your involvement in this incident might affect your outside employment with Gold Cross. When Lt. Tracy asked if your Gold Cross job involved working with the Hospital, you confirmed you transport patients to the Hospital for Gold Cross. Lt. Tracy said he thought the Hospital was ‘not going to be very happy with you,’ to which you stated that, going forward, you would ‘bring them all the transients and take good patients elsewhere.

It’s possible this was overheard, as multiple hospital personnel and even other police officers were in the area. Finally, consider this from the Internal Affairs report:

Based on the above findings, the allegations against your are SUSTAINED. Specifically, your conduct toward Ms. Wubbels in this incident was inappropriate, unreasonable, unwarranted, discourteous, disrespectful, and has brought significant disrepute on both you as a Police Officer and on the Department as a whole. You demonstrated extremely poor professional judgment (especially for an officer with 27 years of experience), which calls into question your ability to effectively serve the public and the Department in a manner that inspires the requisite trust, respect, and confidence. Furthermore, in addition to seriously undermining public trust in both you as an individual officer and the Department in general, you have also potentially jeopardized the Department’s relationship with the hospital and other health care providers.

Understanding the way police officers think, and the implications of the language they use, I can’t imagine how Payne can survive this. If relations with such an important outside agency were not involved, he might be allowed to lay low for a year or so and remain employed, but considering the findings of both review boards, and most specifically, the language used in the Internal Affairs report, I’d be amazed if Payne remained a Salt Lake City police officer. Payne will be radioactive to any other ambulance service or police agency as well. He’s almost certainly no longer employable in those fields.

Any decision on discipline will have to be made by Police Chief Mike Brown. The Mayor has specifically said—at least for public consumption—she will stay out of it. However, considering only the issue raised by Porter, to say nothing of the dual findings, Brown has no choice but to fire Payne. Police officers have only their integrity. When that’s gone, they’re of no use to anyone.

We’ll see, and soon, what sort of integrity the leadership of the SLCPD has. Now that Brown has been forced to act, the SLCPD is moving with appropriate and professional speed to resolve the issue.

The Alex Wubbels Case Archive may be found here.

 

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