As all wait for a decision by Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown, and for a decision on possible criminal charges against SLCPD Detective Jeff Payne and Lt. James Tracy, it appears the University of Utah Police Force is also engaging in a very public mea culpa, as The Salt Lake Tribune reports:
Police Chief Dale Brophy declined an interview request Thursday. A university spokesman instead sent The Salt Lake Tribune a public relations video interview with Brophy addressing the situation. The interview was conducted several days after Aug. 31, when Wubbels’ attorney released body camera footage of the arrest.
‘We could have stepped up and been a champion and advocate for Alex at that time,’ Brophy says in the video. ‘Having seen the video and firsthand what she went through, and what she tried to do to de-escalate and solve the problem, I think that somebody else — [university] security and/or police — could have stepped up and taken that role from her and been the advocate for her like they should’ve been.
They could have, but that would have been–particularly for University of Utah Police–highly unusual. Consider this from the SLCPD Internal Affairs report:
For his part, the University of Utah Police Officer informed Ms. Wubbels that, if she interfered with your investigation, she would be obstructing justice and he would not prevent you from arresting her.
And consider this excerpt from Payne’s police report, quoted in the Civilian Review Board report:
Officer XXX from the U of U PD and a few hospital security officers arrived. After the situation was explained to them Officer XXX told Wubbels that I could arrest her and he wasn’t going to interfere. She looked at the security officers and they said this was a police matter and they weren’t going to get involved.
This is not to say that some did not try–short of physical means–to rescue Alex Wubbels and/or rein in Payne, as these observations from body camera footage in the Review Board report indicate:
Also seen are male and female medical staff, a couple of females in civilian clothes who are assumed to be hospital administrators, two hospital security guards and one U of U Police Officer, who is later seen outside, standing chest to back with S [Payne] as he secures C [Wubbels] in handcuffs.’
‘As Det. Payne is pushing/shoving/moving C through the ER doors, W [the unnamed SLCPD officer] is still in the middle of the hospital but can be heard yelling ‘Payne’ in such as way as to communicate to S that he is going too far and to relax, or so it sounds.
W exits the hospital and captures [on video] SW placing handcuffs onto C, with the U of U officers standing almost chest to back on S, and even placing a hand onto S’s shoulder.
None of this is surprising. In working with other agencies, local police forces are in a position of power. Their authority generally rules over University Police, and surely over security guards, governmental or private, all of which are reluctant to interfere with sworn officers. On one hand, this is necessary. Others, including University Police and security guards, to say nothing of civilians, do not know everything police officers know. Entering on a scene like this late, they are reluctant to interfere because they might be endangering themselves, the police, or perhaps even breaking the law.
What’s interesting is another SLCPD officer apparently tried, verbally, to rein Payne in, but only after Payne had already arrested and laid hands on Wubbels. Fellow officers too are reluctant to interfere with an arrest, if for no other reason than that it would look very bad to the public, would undermine the arresting officer’s authority, and could make a bad situation worse. What if Payne violently resisted his fellow officer? Without a police supervisor on scene, no lesser ranking officer would be likely to intervene.
In this case, with hindsight, that would have been exactly the right thing to do, but hindsight is always 20/20. We give sworn officers, on our behalf, arrest powers, including the power to use whatever force–including deadly force–is necessary to make arrests. That is a power not easily challenged. It’s always best, if there is an argument about the legitimacy of an arrest, not to resist and to fight the battle later in court. Do not, however, gentle readers, think I approve of Payne’s actions.
In a University of Utah police report obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune, Worona writes only a single sentence about the episode: ‘I was requested to assist SLCPD in lawfully obtaining patient information which resulted in a staff member being arrested by SLCPD.’
The investigative reports say a third SLCPD officer dispatched to the scene, Denton Harper, also failed to try and de-escalate the situation.
‘[Harper] failed to intervene, to ‘save’ [Payne] from his increasing pique …’ the Civilian Review Board report states. ‘The U of U Police did not intervene to calm down [Payne], and as expected, the private hospital security staff were nothing more than observers. In other words, not one officer or security officer intervened with the escalating [Payne], and apparently, none of them knew the law any better than [Payne] did.
They may have known the law, but again, they had reasons to avoid interfering, probably mostly tradition based.
In the meantime, departmental discipline records relating to Payne have been released:
The controversial arrest of a University Hospital nurse wasn’t the first time Salt Lake City police Detective Jeff Payne had faced an internal investigation for violating department policies, newly released records show.
About four years ago, Payne received a written reprimand for allegedly
and for allegedly ‘over an extended period of time,’ internal police records state.
And in 1995, Payne was found to have violated multiple department policies related to a vehicle pursuit that involved the Utah Highway Patrol. He was suspended 80 hours without pay.
Payne apparently was also commended on several occasions.
Tracy, meanwhile, also has spent decades with the Salt Lake City Police Department. He received one formal reprimand over the years, in 1997. A letter from a police captain to Tracy said Tracy had transported two handcuffed people across the city, then released them and never documented the incident, including why they had been arrested. An investigation found he violated two department policies.
For police officers with long careers, a few disciplinary issues would not be unusual. Police officers work under intense scrutiny and perfection is expected, if not always universally enforced. It’s unlikely these past indiscretions will be a factor in the current debacle. I found this surprising:
Both department veterans, Payne makes about $129,000 annually in total compensation and Tracy about $150,000, according to Utah’s Right To Know.
Even adjusted for inflation, I never made half that salary. I had no idea police salaries were so generous these days. This is particularly ironic:
Gray remains in the hospital burn unit in critical condition, hospital officials said this week. Logan police have said they never did obtain Gray’s blood.
I’ll close this update with excerpts from a September 16 opinion piece published in The Salt Lake City Tribune by Kevin Gabbard and John F. Schmitt, who are said to be consultants with Shadow Box, a company that develops and implements training for first responders and the military. Their comment provides a brief synopsis of the incident, and observes:
While we wonder whether Payne received that training [de-escalation training], it is not clear from the video that de-escalation is the central issue. Whatever de-escalation opportunities occurred before the video starts, it is clear that by the start of the video both sides are already entrenched in their positions and well on their way to a showdown.
Furthermore, de-escalation probably does not resolve the basic impasse, even if it may have led to a more civil arrest. The problem appears to be that Wubbels and Payne had fundamentally different objectives that simply could not be reconciled.
Indeed they did have different objectives, but the opinion piece, while eventually calling Payne “badge-heavy,” suggests their differing objectives were of equal weight and legitimacy. They ultimately take a conflict resolution approach to the incident:
Finally, Payne and his supervisor needed to employ a problem-solving rather than a proceduralist mindset. It turned out that the hospital had already taken a blood sample from the comatose truck driver as is routine in such cases. This information Wubbels willingly shared when asked. A little patience might have resulted in the police department gaining access to the test results.
In this situation, Alex Wubbels was entirely in the right. Her hospital had previously worked out an agreement and procedure with the SLCPD for dealing with exactly this sort of situation, and she made a paper copy of that agreement available to Payne, but he chose not to recognize it. Not only did the terms of the agreement clearly explain what Payne’s only legitimate course of action was, there was a greater impediment to his actions: the law. Wubbels was right on the law; Payne and Tracy were not. They thought themselves imbued with truckloads of authority, but it was not for a moment backed by law.
No amount of patience, regardless what Gabbard and Schmitt suggest, would have prevailed and produced a blood sample. However, there was one very simple and routine procedure that would: a warrant. Payne apparently spent nearly two hours involved in this situation before Wubbels was finally free of him. A warrant for the blood could easily have been obtained in this time, even a paper copy, to say nothing of an electronic warrant, though there was no time pressure involved, and after the incident, Payne and Tracy apparently entirely dropped their quest for the blood sample, which obviously suggests it wasn’t the actual point of the exercise. Of course, by then they may have realized how badly they’d botched things and decided to back entirely away.
Gabbard and Schmitt end their opinion piece:
By breaking this video down, we can see that the content and context of this seconds’ long drama become a rich case study for specific future training opportunities.
Actually, the only lesson is that police officers should always holster their egos and serve as dispassionate and reasonable enforcers of the law. This obviously requires they have an adequate grasp of the law, and keep their tempers in check. Unfortunately, police agencies are severally handicapped in being restricted to hiring only from the human race. Fortunately, most police officers can manage to do what Payne could not. There remains, for inter-agency relations reasons, legal reasons, and for common-sense reasons, no justification to physically arrest a medical provider in the circumstances of this situation. Even were a citation legitimate, the smart thing to do would have been to write a report and forward it to the local prosecutor for consideration of charges. Unfortunately, no smart, on the part of the police, was in evidence.
More as it develops.