Officer Placed on Leave, Officials Respond to Alleged Assault and Wrongful Arrest of U Nurse

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Officer Placed on Leave, Officials Respond to Alleged Assault and Wrongful Arrest of U Nurse

Utah State Capitol | Chronicle archives.

Utah State Capitol | Chronicle archives.

Utah State Capitol | Chronicle archives.

Utah State Capitol | Chronicle archives.

By Elise Vandersteen and Emily Anderson

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Salt Lake City police officer Jeff Payne, who was involved in the alleged assault and wrongful arrest of University of Utah Health nurse Alex Wubbels, was placed on leave Friday afternoon along with a second unnamed officer. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Sheriff Rosie Rivera will open a criminal investigation into Payne’s actions.

In a statement, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said, “This is an ever evolving situation, and we will do what is necessary to full investigate the issue, uphold the integrity of the Salt Lake City Police Department and strengthen the trust within our community.”

Within 12 hours of the July 26 incident, he said, investigations started and the video footage was reviewed. After 24 hours, steps were taken “to ensure this will never happen again.” Brown said all blood draw officers have now been trained on the U hospital’s protocol.

A university police officer was on the scene when the arrest occurred and stood by without interfering.

“The incident that occurred at University Hospital in July involving nurse Wubbels was mishandled and created a stressful situation that could have been avoided,” said U Police Chief Dale Brophy in a statement. “Since the time of this incident, we have worked closely with hospital administration and our peer law enforcement agencies to develop clear policies and procedures to prevent something like this from happening again.”

Earlier in the day, several other state and local officials responded to a video of the incident released Thursday in conjunction with a news conference addressing the matter.

Salt Lake City mayor Jackie Biskupski called the incident “completely unacceptable.” She said parallel investigations — both an internal police investigation and one from the Citizen’s Review Board — have been opened into what happened and policy reviews are being conducted. Biskupski also said that the situation is a “troubling set-back” to the Salt Lake City Police Department’s (SLCPD) ongoing efforts to increase use of de-escalation techniques.

Until recently, SLCPD hadn’t had a fatal officer-involved shooting since 2015 due to de-escalation training, and has been considered by some to be a model police force when it comes to such tactics.

Salt Lake City Councilmember Charlie Luke referenced those same techniques in his statement regarding Payne’s actions.

“As a Salt Lake City Councilmember I have been and will continue to be a strong advocate for our police officers and department,” Luke wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. “Our police officers are dedicated and well trained, which is why this incident is so disturbing, and taints the good work of the men and women of the SLCPD.” He apologized to both Wubbels and the public.

City Councilmember Derek Kitchen wrote on social media that the video footage of Wubbels’ arrest is “one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen in awhile.” He said he trusted the investigations to be “thorough and fair,” but said, “at the very least I would like to see this officer placed on administrative leave.”

Gov. Gary Herbert took to Twitter, calling the video of Wubbel’s arrest “disturbing,” and urged the city’s police department to “quickly respond and rectify the situation.”

Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox wrote on Twitter, “This is outrageous and inexcusable — and hurts the reputation of good cops everywhere.”

Cox told a commenter that the police department is not under the jurisdiction of the governor’s office, but said they would follow the situation, tweeting, “I hope they treat him with the same respect he showed that nurse.”

State Sen. Todd Weiler, who chairs the Utah Senate Judiciary Committee, condemned Payne’s actions on Twitter.

“Immediately after viewing the police cam video, I contacted the head of the Utah Police Association to inform him with my utter disgust,” Weiler wrote. “I am deeply concerned that Det. Jeff Payne has not been suspended from duty.”

The Utah Nurses Association President Aimee McLean said in a statement she was “deeply disturbed” by the video.

“Nurses, like all health care professionals, deserve to work in settings free from violence, fear and intimidation,” McLean said. “We look forward to working with local and state officials to ensure that nurses are respected and safe in all practice settings.”

The American Nurses Association has also responded to the incident, saying “What happened in Utah should not happen anywhere to any [nurse]” and that Wubbels “did everything right.” It wrote, “It is outrageous and unacceptable that a nurse should be treated in this way for following her professional duty to advocate on behalf of the patient as well as following the policies of her employer and the law.”

The story has been reported on by national outlets including the Washington Post, USA Today, The Hill, The Guardian and TIME.

Wubbels’ lawyer has said Payne believed he was operating under a Utah law which has not been in effect since 2007.

Wubbels did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

@EliseAbril

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@emilyinorgandy

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