SALT LAKE CITY — The former Salt Lake police officer who received worldwide criticism for his arrest of University of Utah Hospital nurse Alex Wubbels says he was only following orders.
Now, Jeff Payne — who believes the city caved to national pressure and made him the fall guy rather than giving him support — wants $1.5 million from the city for being wrongfully fired, defamation of character, breach of contract and not being properly trained, according to a notice of intent to sue that he filed with the city.
KSL obtained a copy of Payne's notice, filed Sept. 24, through a public records request.
In his notice, Payne said it was a "complete act of cowardice by the mayor, chief of police and those in charge to ruin the life of officer Payne for their own political benefit."
"Rather than being honest about what the department's role was, it chose the route of cowards and chose to destroy detective Payne in an effort to sidestep the focus of national outrage," the notice states.
He also believes that if the body camera footage of Wubbels' arrest had not been "prematurely" released, he would still be employed as a police officer, the notice states.
On July 26, 2017, Payne was sent to the hospital to collect blood from a man injured in a crash that killed the driver who caused it. But the charge nurse — citing policy agreed upon by the hospital and the police department — declined to tell Payne where the patient was or allow him to draw blood.
After hours of requesting to collect the patient's blood and being denied, Payne arrested Wubbels for interfering with an investigation. Video from Payne and another officer's body camera that recorded the incident showed Payne trying to push the screaming nurse out of the emergency room and holding her against a wall while handcuffing her.
When the body camera video was released by Wubbels' attorney, the backlash against the officers involved was immediate. Even Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown issued a personal apology to Wubbels for the way she was treated.
Payne believes Wubbels, who filed a public records request with the city to get the body camera video, was given the video "prematurely." Wubbels then released the video "in an attempt to make her look like a victim of police brutality despite her admitting to resisting arrest," the notice states.
"There is no doubt that the public release of body camera footage, police reports and investigative documents during officer Payne's ongoing investigation into the incident resulted in his termination," the notice states. "If it were not for the public release of the body camera footage and resulting public outcry, there is no doubt officer Payne could have, and would have, continued his employment with the SLCPD.”
Payne was ultimately fired from the department with a blistering 17-page letter from Brown that recognized his 27 years of service, but said it was "outweighed by the glaring absence of sound professional judgment and extremely discourteous, disrespectful, inappropriate, unreasonable and unwarranted behavior you displayed in this incident."
Payne's supervisor that day, Lt. James Tracy, was demoted to the position of officer.
In his notice to sue, Payne contends his choice would have been to just leave the hospital that day. But he said he was instructed by Tracy to arrest Wubbels, and that he was following what he was told was department policy.
"Following this incident, it has become apparent to the SLCPD, and the greater SLC community, as well as the entire nation, that officer Payne did not have the right to conduct a blood draw … as he was instructed and trained," according to his notice of claim. "The city of Salt Lake and the Salt Lake City Police Department chose to make detective Payne the fall guy for their out of date, inaccurate and negligent policy manual."
In his letter appealing his demotion, Tracy claims he never ordered Payne to arrest Wubbels, but rather told him to "consider arresting her."
Payne emphasized in italics in his notice that he "tried to work with Ms. Wubbels for nearly two to three hours," but when he attempted to take her into custody, she resisted arrest.
Salt Lake police issued a brief statement Thursday in response to Payne's notice of claim, saying, "We strongly disagree with the accusations. And if it comes to it, we look forward to defending ourselves in court."
The mayor's office declined comment.
Cities typically have 90 to 180 days to respond to a notice of intent to sue before the person filing the claim proceeds to the next step.
In October 2017, Wubbels announced she had reached a $500,000 settlement with the city and the university without filing a lawsuit and planned on using part of the money to make body camera video more accessible to all residents in Utah involved in a police incident.