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Supervising officer in viral arrest of University of Utah nurse loses appeal

By Pat Reavy, KSL | Updated - Apr. 18, 2019 at 7:07 p.m. | Posted - Apr. 18, 2019 at 7:00 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake Civil Service Commission has upheld Chief Mike Brown's decision to demote one of the officers involved in the high-profile 2017 arrest of University of Utah nurse Alex Wubbels.

During their brief monthly meeting, the three-member commission announced Thursday that it agreed with the Salt Lake City police chief's decision to demote James Tracy two ranks from lieutenant to patrol officer.

Tracy's attorney, Ed Brass, called the decision "disappointing," but said he could not comment further until he read the commission's rationale behind the decision, which is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

Brass said the option to file an appeal with the Utah courts is still an option. Tracy, who was in uniform, left the hearing without comment due to the fact he was on duty, his attorney said.

Tracy was one of two Salt Lake police officers disciplined for their roles in the arrest of Wubbels on July 26, 2017. Officer Jeff Payne went to the hospital seeking a blood draw from a patient involved in a fatal crash but was denied because he didn't have the proper authorization.

Body camera video of a screaming Wubbels subsequently being dragged out of the hospital and handcuffed by Payne went viral and sparked worldwide criticism of the officers. Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Brown issued a personal apology to the nursing supervisor for the way she was treated.

Payne, a 27-year veteran of the department, was fired in a blistering 17-page letter issued by Brown. Tracy was demoted.

Payne filed a notice of intent to sue the city in September for $1.5 million. He contends he was only following orders from Tracy and that the city caved to national pressure and made him the fall guy.

But in his appeal to the city to have his rank and pay reinstated, Tracy claims he, too, was made to be a scapegoat by the city, and that his decisions that day were based on bad or omitted information given to him by Payne. In his written final argument submitted to the Civil Service Commission in March, Tracy and Brass said the notion that Tracy told Payne to arrest Wubbels after one phone call was "ludicrous."

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"No evidence was presented and no evidence could be presented that Tracy ever directed Payne to arrest the nurse in the manner depicted in the videos," according to their written arguments.

Most important, Tracy said Payne never told him that Logan police — the agency that originally requested the blood draw — had informed Payne they no longer needed it.

"Payne inexplicably withheld fundamental information from him. Payne failed to inform Tracy that he intended to leave the scene," according to Tracy's written arguments.

Tracy also contends that the department's policy of arresting people for misdemeanor crimes "whenever possible" is vague. In his written arguments, he also disputes that he was "discourteous" to hospital administrators, and in fact remained "calm" despite being yelled at.

Finally, Tracy argued that his demotion had nothing to do with poor leadership and judgment, and everything to do with "the public outcry over the videos of Payne's actions."

"There was a huge public outcry following the release of the video of the arrest of the nurse by the other officer. The chief promised … that something would happen and that the citizens of Salt Lake should trust in the process. That process was to offer up Lt. Tracy as a sacrifice to public opinion," he and Brass wrote in their closing arguments. "He should not be made a scapegoat for the actions of others."

Payne is scheduled to go before the Civil Service Commission to appeal his firing on July 16 and 17. A pre-hearing was held Thursday for attorneys to discuss discovery issues. Payne's attorneys claim the city has dragged its feet in providing evidence and information, including body camera videos.

Before the commission meeting began, Payne and Tracy were seen shaking hands in the hallway and conversing before walking into the hearing.


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