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SALT LAKE CITY — Two Salt Lake police officers were placed on leave Friday and a criminal investigation was ordered after video of a veteran officer dragging a nurse out of a hospital when she refused to allow a blood draw from an unconscious patient was broadcast across the country.
The Salt Lake Police Department announced Friday afternoon that the officer involved in the startling video had been placed on paid administrative leave — hours after Chief Mike Brown announced that the officer had still been working on duty but in a limited role since the incident occurred more than a month ago.
We support the DA's independent investigation into unacceptable actions at the UofU. We have placed SLCPD officer involved on leave. #utpol— Mayor J. Biskupski (@slcmayor) September 1, 2017
The statement from the department does not name the officer, but police officials made no effort to dispute that it is the same individual seen arresting the nurse in the video — detective Jeff Payne.
The change in status halts Payne's policing powers and requires that he hand over his badge and any department equipment while the Unified Police Department conducts an independent investigation into the controversial July 26 arrest.
KSL made repeated inquiries into the status of Salt Lake Police Lt. James Tracy, the watch commander at the time of the incident who, according to a police report, instructed Payne to arrest the nurse. Department officials confirmed that a statement was being prepared about those inquiries.
In a tweet sent Friday evening, the department announced that a second officer had also been placed on leave in light of the criminal investigation, but would not confirm the name of that officer or what role the officer played in the incident.
In addition to being the supervisor over the department's officers during that shift, Tracy also came to the scene and was recorded in the video exchanging sharp words with the handcuffed woman.
Payne also works as a paramedic for Gold Cross Ambulance Service and was even dropping off patients at University Hospital Friday morning.
Mike Moffitt, Gold Cross president, said Payne was also placed on paid leave from that company Friday based on his statements in the video in which the detective talks to another officer about transporting homeless patients to University Hospital while "good" patients are taken elsewhere.
Moffitt said Payne is a longtime employee with the company and a "great paramedic."
"He doesn't have anything like this in his history," Moffitt said.
Video captured by an officer's body camera was first released to the public Thursday and shows Payne dragging a screaming charge nurse, Alex Wubbels, out of University Hospital's burn unit, handcuffing her and stuffing her into his squad car.
The recording spread nationwide in a matter of hours, and Wubbels' account of the harrowing arrest was the top story on several national news outlets Friday, as hashtags of #AlexWubbels and #FireJeffPayne spread widely on social media.
Wubbels, a two-time Olympian in alpine skiing, released the video and pushed for better training of police officers in hopes of preventing "harassment," as she called it, of hospital doctors and nurses.
In an interview with NBC Friday, Wubbels said she feels relieved after sharing the details of her experience.
"Now that its been released to the public, I will say that I feel a little bit less of a burden that I was holding for a long time, and the outpouring of support has been more than I could have ever, ever, ever imagined and I'm very, very, very grateful for that," Wubbels said.
Though Brown confirmed during midday Friday that the department began taking action within hours of the incident in July, Payne had been allowed to remain at work but was suspended from the blood draw program. He was not placed on leave until Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill saw the video and called for the criminal investigation.
Gill called the video "concerning" Friday, noting that Wubbels is clear and articulate in the video as she insists she is following hospital policy.
"The question is if that behavior is not reasonable and is subject to police action, then under what context? And that's exactly what I would like to be investigated," Gill said.
Once Unified police completes its investigation, Gill said his office will review what, if any, criminal charges might be applicable.
Last year, assaulting a health care professional became a felony in Utah.
Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, who is an emergency room doctor at St. Mark's Hospital, successfully ran the legislation arguing that consequences for assaulting someone in health care should carry the same penalty as assaulting a police officer.
Wubbels is a charge nurse, or a liaison between patients and doctors and hospital managers, at the burn unit. Payne had come to the unit to draw blood from the victim in a fiery head-on crash with a vehicle that was fleeing from police in Cache County and crossed into oncoming traffic. The driver of the fleeing vehicle was killed.
Because the victim in the crash, Bill Gray, was unconscious and could not consent to the procedure and was not under arrest, and because police did not have a warrant, Wubbels denied the blood draw. Payne said in the video he was arresting her for impeding a police investigation.
Wubbels was later released by police and no charges were ever filed against her.
In Payne's police report, he says he waited an hour and a half in a waiting room after first making the blood draw request of Wubbels. When she returned to the waiting room, she said she had spoken to her supervisors and the hospital was not going to allow the blood draw.
"Wubbels said she was sorry for making me wait so long and I said, 'No your (sic) not,' and walked away," the report states.
Payne described in his report arresting Wubbels: "She pulled away and as I tried harder to control her, she continued to try to get away. … 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 a wall and place handcuffs on her."
The incident played out in front of several officers, including a member of the University of Utah's police force. None of them intervened.
At one point in the video, Wubbels asks the university officer, "Can you protect me?" The officer replies no, going on to tell the frightened nurse, "If he's going to arrest you, I'm not going to stop him."
The officer is identified as "S. Worona" in a police report.
University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy issued a statement Friday offering support for Wubbels and said the department's policies have since been updated, but made no mention of the officer.
"The incident that occurred at University Hospital in July involving nurse Wubbels was mishandled and created a stressful situation that could have been avoided," Brophy said.
He added: "The training of our officers is constant and ongoing, with an emphasis on learning from prior incidents. We are committed to the safety and security of all students, faculty, staff, patients and visitors on our campus."
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski called the arrest "unjust" and "unacceptable" during the news conference Friday. The mayor said she learned of the July 26 incident Thursday when she saw the video.
Biskupski also said she had called Wubbels Friday and apologized for "what she went through for simply doing her job."
"No medical professional in Salt Lake City should be hindered from performing their duties, and certainly not be fearful of the police officers they come into contact and work in partnership (with) often to save the lives of others," she said.
Wubbels confirmed in the NBC interview she had spoken with the mayor and looked forward to working with her.
"I accepted that apology and I'm grateful for her concern about the situation, and (am) looking forward to talking to her further in discussion as well," Wubbels said.
Standing at the mayor's side, Brown said the department took immediate action after the incident, including updating policies regarding blood draws, meeting with representatives from the hospital and University of Utah law enforcement, and apologizing for what occurred.
"Most notably in all these conversations is that we apologized for the incident we truly do and we promise to find a solution," Brown said.
The chief conceded he was "alarmed" by what he saw in the video of the arrest, saying he hopes the department can "learn from mistakes."
"I am sad at the rift this has caused between law enforcement and the nurses we work so closely with," he said.
An internal investigation of the arrest, including a review of all officers involved, is ongoing, according to Brown. Meanwhile, Biskupski said the city's civilian review board will conduct its own inquiry into Payne's actions.
The footage of Alex Wubbels' arrest is disturbing. We trust that the @slcpd will quickly respond and rectify the situation.— Gov. Gary Herbert (@GovHerbert) September 1, 2017
This is outrageous and inexcusable--and hurts the reputation of good cops everywhere. https://t.co/5tn0dq6zlI— Spencer Cox (@SpencerJCox) September 1, 2017
The request for the blood draw came from the Logan Police Department, which was called on by the Utah Highway Patrol to investigate the chase and the crash, Logan Police Capt. Curtis Hooley said Friday.
Though police do not suspect that Gray was impaired in any way, Hooley said the department's policy is to request blood tests of all drivers involved in such crashes.
The Logan police detective assigned to the case believed "implied consent" laws — which Payne repeatedly cites in the video — allowed for the request, Hooley said. However, upon learning that the hospital was not agreeing to the blood draw, Hooley said the detective informed Salt Lake police that he would seek a medical subpoena in order to proceed.
Hooley said the Logan Police Department was not involved in any conversations about arresting Wubbels.
As of Friday, Hooley said the investigation into the crash is ongoing. The department has not yet pursued the subpoena, he said, but likely will in the future.
Gray has remained in a coma in the burn unit since the accident, according to a GoFundMe campaign. The campaign is seeking donations to allow Gray's wife to remain in Salt Lake City near her husband while he recovers.
In addition to driving his truck full time, Gray is a reserve officer for the police department in Rigby, Idaho. The department issued a statement Friday saying it hadn't been aware of the incident until Thursday and praised Wubbels' actions.
"The Rigby Police Department would like to thank the nurse involved and hospital staff for standing firm, and protecting officer Gray's rights as a patient and victim. Protecting the rights of others is truly a heroic act," the department said.
On its Facebook page Friday, University of Utah Health Care affirmed support for Wubbels.
"University of Utah Health fully supports nurse Wubbels, and we are proud of her decision to focus first and foremost on the care and well-being of her patient. She followed procedures and protocols in this matter, and was acting in her patient's best interest.
"We have worked with our law enforcement partners on this issue to ensure an appropriate process for moving forward," the post read, shared along with national coverage of Wubbels' video.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert weighed in on the incident Friday, saying on Twitter that "the footage of Alex Wubbels' arrest is disturbing. We trust that the @slcpd will quickly respond and rectify the situation."
National Nurses United, the country's largest union and professional association of registered nurses, released a statement after seeing the video, calling Payne's actions "outrageous."
"At a time of a growing problem of workplace violence against RNs and other hospital employees, it is especially appalling to see police assaulting an RN for properly, and legally, doing her job," said Jean Ross, co-president of the organization. "It is particularly disgraceful to see violence in a hospital perpetrated by a law enforcement officer against a registered nurse who is advocating for her patient."