Officials: ‘No acceptable reason’ for delay in placing officers on leave after nurse arrest
Katie McKellar, KSL.com
SALT LAKE CITY — Flooded with thousands of outraged emails, calls and social media posts from across the nation about the arrest of nurse Alex Wubbels, the Salt Lake City Council, mayor’s office and police chief have been getting the same questions over and over:
Why haven’t the officers involved been fired? And why weren’t the officers placed on administrative leave immediately, rather than after the video was broadcast on local, then national news?
Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s office and the police department have published a fact sheet on slcmayor.com to answer those questions.
Their answer to why they weren’t placed on leave immediately? “There is no acceptable reason,” the fact sheet states.
While detective Jeff Payne was removed from the blood draw program, the decision not to immediately remove him and his watch commander from active duty is “regrettable,” the FAQ sheet states.
When asked about that reasoning Tuesday, Chief Mike Brown said, “Look, hindsight’s 20-20.”
“If we knew everything or if things had been different, perhaps we would have put them on admin leave right out of the chute,” Brown said told KSL.com. “I don’t have an answer that really makes people feel good about that right now other than please rest assured we will hold our officers accountable. We initiated that internal investigation right out of the chute.”
Brown said his command staff saw the video within 24 hours of the incident, while he did not see it until Thursday. The chief is typically separated from the evidence of an internal investigation until it is complete, the city FAQ sheet states.
Brown called the incident an “outlier of outliers” and an “unfortunate situation” that will never happen again.
“This was a very traumatic situation for (Wubbels) and this is something I never want her or any nurse in the country to ever go through, especially here in Salt Lake City,” Brown said. “Out of all this, I hope some very strong policy and some good direction for the Salt Lake City Police department.”
So why haven’t the officers been fired?
Brown and City Attorney Margaret Plane said the city cannot just fire an employee without “due process,” or it places the city at risk for a lawsuit.
“We can’t just fire him, or there are problems we could have down the road,” Brown said.
Plane said if a suit determines an officer has been wrongfully terminated, he or she is often reinstated, which causes problems for employee morale and the police force.
The city also has a contract with the Salt Lake Police Association, a union that represents police officers, including Payne.
Salt Lake City Council Chairman Stan Penfold read a statement during Tuesday night’s council meeting, apologizing to Wubbels for “all she endured” and pledging to take a “hard look at the city’s relevant ordinances and policies to determine what changes are needed to prevent needless and regrettable incidents like this from occurring again.”
“As elected representatives, we must answer to our constituents when public trust in government is undermined, especially when it involves something as critical as public safety and our relationship with hospital emergency professionals,” Penfold said.
He said the council will “seek answers” over the next several weeks to questions such as: “How could this incident occur? And how can we ensure this never happens again?”
This article was originally published by KSL.com. It is used her with permission.