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Two Investigations into SLCPD Officer’s Arrest of U Nurse Conclude

Erin Burns / The Daily Utah Chronicle

Two of the three investigations into the actions of Salt Lake City Police officers Detective Jeff Payne and Lt. James Tracy following Payne’s arrest of University of Utah Health nurse Alex Wubbels have finished.

The first — the police department’s internal affairs investigation — concluded that Tracy violated five departmental policies. It found that he acted with conduct unbecoming of an officer. Other rules broken include behaving with courtesy in public contacts, a policy favoring misdemeanor citations over arrests ”whenever possible,” the code of ethics and a standards of conduct policy.

It also found that Payne violated all five of those same policies, plus an additional policy which required him to report his use of physical force while arresting Wubbels — which he did not do.

Of Payne’s actions, the department wrote, “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.”

To both employees, letters said, “disciplinary action, which may include termination of your employment, is being considered in response to actions on your part which appear to be a violation of policy and/or expectations related to the performance of your job duties.”

Payne’s lawyer, Greg Skordas, responded to the internal investigation’s results. He complimented their accounting of the facts but took issue with some of the results. He said he feels the report wouldn’t have been so harsh if the body camera footage hadn’t been publicly released and believes the report will be used to “justify major discipline … when it’s not warranted here.”

“He made a terrible mistake … But let’s not overstate it because it’s become a YouTube sensation,” Skordas said.

The second investigation — an independent review by the Civilian Review Board — concluded with findings that Tracy did not meet the responsibilities of his position as a watch commander, that both officers should have contacted the department’s legal adviser and that both officers did not understand the laws in question. It also found that Payne violated three department policies — public courtesy, blood draw procedures and his obligation to follow policy and orders.

The Civilian Review Board’s report also noted that no other police officer or security personnel present at the time of the incident intervened. These officers were from both SLCPD and the University of Utah’s campus police department. The security there was employed by the hospital.

Wubbels and her lawyer have named the inaction of those individuals as one of their primary concerns.

Their actions are also under ongoing criminal investigation by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office, in coordination with the Unified Police Department and the FBI.

Wubbels had called hospital security when Payne became agitated. They came, but did not intervene in any way, telling her it was a “police matter” in which they couldn’t “get involved.” When she asked a U police officer to protect her from Payne, who was threatening her with arrest at the time, he told her that he would not prevent Payne from arresting her if she interfered with his work because her actions were obstruction of justice.

One U officer, Steven Worona, appears to assist in Payne’s arrest of Wubbels by placing his hand on her shoulder to hold her still. After she was arrested, he approached Payne and Tracy, offering to help them get the blood they wanted.

In a video released online, U police Chief Dale Brophy said, “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.”

Brophy said he’s met with the department and instituted more de-escalation training “to make sure it never happens again.”

On July 26, Payne went to the U’s hospital in search of a patient’s blood on behalf of the Logan Police Department. When Wubbels refused to give him a sample under policy agreed to by the hospital and SLCPD, Payne arrested her and pulled her out of the hospital while she screamed for help. Tracy, Payne’s supervisor that day, arrived shortly after the arrest. He had ordered her arrest.

Payne and Tracy have both worked as police officers for decades. Payne has won multiple awards for his work, including a Purple Heart award from the Utah Peace Officer’s Association after being shot during a traffic stop. Tracy has held several leadership positions in the force.

Both have been reprimanded in the past. In 2013, then-Chief Chris Burbank gave a written reprimand to Payne over allegations that he had sexually harassed a female coworker over a long period of time, including unwanted physical contact. He had also been suspended in 1995 after a police chase in which he violated several department policies. Tracy’s only formal reprimand was in 1997 after he arrested two people, then released them on the other side of the city, never documenting what happened.

Payne and Tracy now have until Oct. 3 to respond to the results of the internal affairs investigation. After that time period, SLCPD Chief Mike Brown will make a decision about the consequences the two officers will face.

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About the Contributor
Elise Vandersteen Bailey
Elise Vandersteen Bailey, Investigative Coordinator
Elise is the Investigative Editor at the Daily Utah Chronicle. In her almost four years at the paper, she has won nearly 20 awards from professional journalism organizations. She currently attends graduate school at the U, studying Public Policy and Population Health Sciences, and spends her free time wondering whether it's too nerdy to Tweet whatever "cool" graph she's found most recently.

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