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SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake Police Association on Monday broke its silence regarding the widely publicized arrest of a University Hospital nurse by two officers, saying the union is "extremely concerned and dismayed" at how the city has handled the investigation and release of information.
"The premature release of body cam footage, and information related to the disciplinary investigation, and repeated statements by city officials to the media has unfairly and improperly made pariahs of the involved officers," according to a letter written by Stephen Hartney, the police union's president.
The letter is addressed to Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown.
Salt Lake police detective Jeff Payne and his supervisor Lt. James Tracy have gained negative nationwide attention over the July 26 arrest of nurse Alex Wubbels.
Payne was sent to University Hospital to collect blood from a man injured in a fatal crash. But Wubbels — citing policy agreed upon by the hospital and the police department, as well as instructions from nearly a dozen superiors — declined to tell Payne where the patient was or allow him to draw blood.
After about 90 minutes of negotiating, according to a police report, an impatient Payne is seen in body camera video telling Wubbels, the charge nurse, that she is under arrest for interfering with a police investigation. He is seen forcefully pushing her out of the emergency room and pinning her against a wall while he handcuffs her.
Tracy was the watch commander or supervisor on duty, who originally told Payne to arrest her.
The incident caught the attention of the public — including Salt Lake City leaders — after Wubbels and her attorney released body camera video of the arrest on Aug. 31.
The day after the video was released, Biskupski held a press conference and offered a personal apology to Wubbels for the way she was treated. Biskupski later announced that two investigations from Internal Affairs and the independent Civilian Review Board had concluded that both officers violated several police department policies.
"It is very clear that detective Payne had become too emotionally involved in the confrontation with (Wubbels)," the board's review concluded. "His actions were loud, aggressive and overly mission driven."
The reports were then sent to Brown for review. Both Payne and Tracy have 20 days to respond to the reports. After that, the chief will ultimately decide what, if any, disciplinary action should be imposed.
Until Monday, the Salt Lake Police Association had remained quiet about the incident.
In his letter, Hartney said the association was "not, at this point, arguing over (or) even discussing the merits of the allegations being raised" against the officers.
"The city's handling of this incident," he said, "has corrupted the investigation" required under department regulations, violated public records rules, "and ultimately may prevent Jeff Payne and other officers from receiving a fair disposition of the charges against them.
"We are solely concerned at this point with the 'investigatory process' which we believe has been corrupted and Mr. Payne 's actions prejudged," he wrote.
Hartney said the Internal Affairs and Citizens Review Board investigations are supposed to be given to independent parties for review so a final decision is "based on the facts and not on emotion or public consternation."
Hartney said releasing the body camera video while the investigation is still ongoing "has created a public furor which makes reasoned determinations difficult, if not impossible. A furor which did not have to occur," while later adding that release of the video also "creates an explosive atmosphere for no reason whatsoever."
The premature release of body cam footage is particularly demoralizing as it allows the public who have not trained as police officers to make what often amounts to biased and ill-informed judgments of the police.
–Stephen Hartney, the police union's president
"The premature release of body cam footage is particularly demoralizing as it allows the public who have not trained as police officers to make what often amounts to biased and ill-informed judgments of the police," the letter states.
The letter suggests that release of the body camera video "violates" public records laws.
But Wubbels' attorney, Karra Porter, said Monday that her office talked to the city attorney's office before filing a Government Records Access Management Act request, which was approved. She said her client, who is the subject of the video, obtained it legally.
As for any public furor that the video has created, "That doesn't surprise me because what's on the video is sickening," she said. "The video speaks for itself."
If the police union determines that Payne did not violate any policies or that he was disciplined too harshly, Hartney said it will fully defend him.
Until then, he requested on Monday that city leaders stop making any more "inflammatory statements" about the incident.
Hartney also publicly questioned why certain training has stopped at the police department. The former attorney representing the department used to provide continuous updates and training to officers regarding changes in the law and department policy, he said.
"If ongoing training had occurred, it is likely, indeed probable, that the entire incident at the hospital would have been avoided," he wrote. "We urge you to find out why this training has ceased."
A probe of the arrest by the FBI and an investigation by the Unified Police Department on behalf of the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office were still ongoing Monday.