A US police officer who violently arrested a nurse for protecting the rights of an unconscious patient was fired on Tuesday while his supervisor was demoted two ranks.
Footage of the arrest in Salt Lake City, Utah was made public in early September and became viral on social media. “Without [the video], my story never would have had the impact it has had,” said University of Utah hospital nurse Alex Wubbels.
An internal review by the Salt Lake City Police Department found that the actions of Detective Jeff Payne and his watch commander, James Tracy, violated department policy and undermined public trust, reported The Washington Post.
“I have lost faith and confidence in your ability to continue to serve as a member of the Salt Lake City Police Department,” Chief Mike Brown wrote in a termination letter to Payne. The letter was posted by the Deseret News.
“I am deeply troubled by your lack of sound, professional judgment and your discourteous, disrespectful and unwarranted behavior, which unnecessarily escalated a situation that could and should have been resolved in a manner far different from the course of action you chose to pursue.”
On July 26, Payne arrested Wubbels when she refused his request to draw blood from an unconscious truck driver. The driver – who died in late September – was involved in a head-on collision with a suspect fleeing police.
The video showed Wubbels politely explaining to Payne that hospital policy, state law and federal law required police to show a warrant or get the patient’s consent to collect a blood sample.
Wubbels pointed out that Payne had neither and even asked a supervisor to back her.
Payne snapped a few minutes later, grabbing Wubbels by the arm and handcuffing her before shoving her into an unmarked car.
Wubbels cried: “You’re assaulting me!” and “This is crazy!” as she screamed for help.
Brown and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski apologized to Wubbles, saying she never should have been arrested for doing her job.
Payne is a 27-year veteran of the department, and Tracy has worked in law enforcement for 22 years, spending nine years as a lieutenant in Salt Lake City. Their lawyers say they would appeal the decision because “the chief reacted to a lot of public pressure and scrutiny in making a decision that doesn’t fit the conduct.”
But Tracy was the catalyst, the police chief said, because he had ordered Payne to arrest the nurse for interfering with a police investigation “without fully understanding the nature of the situation.”
“Your lack of judgment and leadership in this matter is unacceptable,” Brown wrote to Tracy.
Wubbels and her lawyer released the video at a September 1 news conference because they felt the police were not taking the matter seriously enough. They plan to take legal action.
Meanwhile, the hospital responded by barring law enforcement from patient-care areas and direct contact with nurses.
“Substantial damage has been done to the Department’s relationship with nurses, the Hospital and, equally important, the public we serve,” Brown said.
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