SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah police officer who was caught on video roughly handcuffing a nurse because she refused to allow a blood draw was fired Tuesday in a case that became a flashpoint in the ongoing national conversation about police use of force.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown made the decision after an internal investigation found evidence Detective Jeff Payne violated department policies when he arrested nurse Alex Wubbels and dragged her out of the hospital as she screamed on July 26, said Sgt. Brandon Shearer, a spokesman for the department.
Attorney Greg Skordas has said Payne served the department well for nearly three decades and questioned whether his behavior warranted termination. He couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
Payne’s supervisor, Lt. James Tracy, was also demoted to officer. His lawyer, Ed Brass, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
The case received widespread attention after the body-camera video was released by Wubbels and her lawyer in late August. Her lawyer didn’t have immediate comment on the decision to fire Payne.
It showed her explaining that hospital policy required a warrant or formal consent to draw blood from the patient who had been injured in a car crash.
The patient wasn’t suspected of wrongdoing. He was an off-duty reserve Idaho police officer driving a semitrailer when he was hit by a man fleeing police in a pickup truck.
Payne nevertheless insisted, saying the evidence would protect the man. Payne told Wubbels his supervisor said he should arrest her if she didn’t allow the blood draw. Tracy arrived on scene after the arrest and forcefully told a handcuffed Wubbels that she should have allowed the blood draw. She was later released without charge.
Both officers came under investigation and were placed on paid administrative leave after the video became public. Salt Lake City police also apologized and changed their policies in line with Wubbels’ position.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, opened a criminal investigation into the arrest and asked the FBI to probe for possible civil rights violations.
Payne was also fired from a part-time job as a paramedic after he was caught on camera saying he’d take transient patients to the University of Utah hospital where Wubbels worked and take the “good patients” elsewhere as retribution.
Payne had previously been disciplined in 2013 after internal-affairs investigators confirmed that he sexually harassed a female co-worker in a “persistent and severe” way.
His tenure has also brought commendations for solving burglary cases as recently as 2011 and a being shot in the shoulder during a traffic stop in 1998.
Tracy, meanwhile, has risen to through the ranks since he was hired in 1995, earning commendations for drug and burglary investigations. He was reprimanded in 1997 for moving two handcuffed people from one location to another a few miles away and releasing them without documenting the incident.
"People are dying." That's what whistleblower Joe Rannazzisi told 60 Minutes over and over again. "People are dying."
This week, the broadcast airs Bill Whitaker's interview with Rannazzisi, a former high-ranking DEA agent who saw the opioid epidemic killing hundreds of thousands of Americans, tried to stop it, and ran into a brick wall -- in the form of Congress.
"Joe Rannazzisi is not gonna give this fight up...He's going to pursue this until he gets some satisfaction."
Whitaker talks about his report "The Whistleblower," which was a joint investigation with The Washington Post, with 60 Minutes Overtime and explains why Rannazzisi decided to talk publicly.
"Joe Rannazzisi is not gonna give this fight up," says Whitaker. "He's like a dog with a bone. He's going to pursue this until he gets some satisfaction."
In the video player above, watch the full Overtime interview (produced by Will Croxton, Lisa Orlando, and Ann Silvio) or read the transcript below:
CREW: Speeding, We're good, Let's go...
BILL WHITAKER: Okay. Well, Joe, if you would first of all please state your name, so we have it at the top of your interview?
JOE RANNAZZISI: Okay. My name is Joseph Rannazzisi—
BILL WHITAKER: My story on 60 Minutes this week is about a former DEA agent who saw the opioid epidemic growing, and tried to stop it, and ran into a brick wall in the form of Congress.
JOE RANNAZZISI TO CONGRESS: 16,651 people in 2010 died of opiate overdose, ok? Opiate-associated overdose. This is not a game.
BILL WHITAKER: Are you the most high-level whistleblower to come out of the DEA?
JOE RANNAZZISI: As far as this? Yes. As far as pharmaceutical opioid abuse and the way we've handled it? Yeah, I'm pretty much the highest-level person that's come out.
60 MINUTES OVERTIME: Joe Rannazzisi is in your story called one of the most important whistleblowers ever to be on 60 Minutes. What's your sense of what drives him?
BILL WHITAKER: He is a no-nonsense principled man. He saw this crisis and wanted to stop it. What he zeroed in on was the distribution of the pills. So he started to put pressure on the distributors. And the distributors pushed back.
JOE RANNAZZISI: This is an industry that allowed millions and millions of drugs to go into bad pharmacies and doctors' offices, that distributed them out to people who had no legitimate need for those drugs.
BILL WHITAKER: This story was like a continuation of the two previous stories we did on the opioid crisis. That one was personal.
[Excerpt from "The Heroin Epidemic":
ANGIE PELFREY: We call this the "death wall."
BILL WHITAKER: The death wall?
ANGIE PELFREY: Yes.
BILL WHITAKER: Why is that?
ANGIE PELFREY: Majority of the people on this wall have died of drug overdose.
BILL WHITAKER: I thought of those people we met and the people who died-- all the time.
MAN: There's 23 in there on the wall from my hometown.
BILL WHITAKER: Is it a small town?
BILL WHITAKER: It seems that some investigators with the DEA were aware that these pills were getting out of the pharmacies and into the streets, and they tried to ring the alarm bells. But not only did no one pay attention to them, it seems that members of Congress took steps to try to limit the DEA's abilities to stop this. And the result was a bill in Congress that actually ended up taking away the most potent tool that the DEA had to go after the distribution of so many drugs.
JOE RANNAZZISI: This bill is going to protect defendants that we have under investigation, that we are investigating. And it restricts or prevents us from filing immediate suspension orders to stop-- to stop the hemorrhaging of drugs downstream.
CONGRESSMAN TOM MARINO: It is my understanding that Joe Rannazzisi, a senior DEA official, has publicly accused we sponsors of the bill of --quote supporting criminals --unquote. This offends me immensely.
BILL WHITAKER: You know you have a reputation. And even people who support you tell us that you can be a bit of a hothead. True?
JOE RANNAZZISI: Yeah, I do get angry. I get angry when people don't do their jobs. I get angry when people don't do their jobs well.
BILL WHITAKER: And this crisis that he saw happening in front of his eyes enraged him.
JOE RANNAZZISI: I-- I-- I'm guilty. I'm guilty of being passionate. I'm builty of b-- guilty of being angry. But I think anybody else in that situation would've done the exact same thing.
BILL WHITAKER: "People are dying." He would say that to us over and over and over again. "People are dying." So he was trying to figure out what he could do about it. And every time he ran into a roadblock, he got angrier and more forceful. And it depends on who ya talk to what his reputation is. If you talk to his investigators, the people who worked in the field for him, they love him. You talk to some people in Washington-- at the DEA-- his higher-ups at the DEA or at the Justice Department, certainly in Congress, they think he was too aggressive, to the point of being boorish.
JOE RANNAZZISI: What I needed was support. And it infuriated me that I was over there, trying to explain what my motives were or why I was going after these corporations. And when I went back to the office, and I sat down with my staff, I basically said, "You know, I just got questioned on why we're doing-- why we're doing what we're doing. This is-- now this is war. We're going after these people, and we're not gonna stop.
BILL WHITAKER: He's not the most diplomatic person you've ever come across.
60 MINUTES OVERTIME: No, but he makes a good whistleblower.
BILL WHITAKER: He makes a great whistleblower, and he's got a reason to be upset.
JOE RANNAZZISI: It just hurts when somebody says, "Well, DEA should be doing more." DEA was doing everything it could. DEA ran into a wall.
60 MINUTES OVERTIME: Do you think this investigation by 60 Minutes and The Washington Post will make waves?
BILL WHITAKER: I sure hope so. This is a terrible crisis. What I would hope would happen from this story is that Americans get angry.
60 MINUTES OVERTIME: It doesn't look like Joe Rannazzisi's gonna let this go.
BILL WHITAKER: Joe Rannazzisi is not gonna give this fight up. He's like a dog with a bone. He's going to pursue this until he gets some satisfaction.
CONGRESSMAN TOM MARINO: You know before coming to Congress, I was a prosecutor and an United States Attorney.
BILL WHITAKER: Congressman Marino has been nominated to be the next drug czar. What was your reaction when you heard that?
JOE RANNAZZISI: Total disbelief. Total disbelief. He's just not qualified to do that job. Besides the fact that he pushed through a bill that's curtailing the ability of DEA to do their job, I don't understand how you could look at a congressman who's done all of this and then decide he would be a great drug czar-- to basically set policy for the United States; drug policy for the United States.
BILL WHITAKER: We will soon have a hearing with Congressman Marino. I would think that this would be an issue that will be brought up in his hearings.
JOE RANNAZZISI: The bill was bad. Him being the drug czar is a lot worse.
We've seen corporate America reap the benefits of its own disgrace with our tax dollars and, therefore, at the expense of all of us. Corporate America along with government support just keeps hitting us over the head. It's too much! One sector that's not been the focus of attention lately is corporate agribusiness that should be intensely scrutinized. But we're beginning to see some changes locally that are encouraging. The interest in urban agriculture, in fact, and more attention to food issues in America is a case in point and a counterpoint to corporate agribusiness.
Understanding the history of agriculture in America and the advent of industrialized corporate agribusiness is important to help all of us understand where we are now and what needs to be done. We will touch upon it here, but only briefly. Nevertheless, how corporate agribusiness weaves into our lives at virtually all levels has been insidious. It's time to turn this around.
The United States is an urban country. Recent demographics reveal that 81% of the U.S. population lives in cities or suburbs of cities. One of the realities of this, however, is that many of the folks living in urban areas are former farmers or families of farmers who have been forced off the land in the 20th century - particularly since post-Second World War. This has been the result of an industrialized and increasingly globalized agriculture in America.
Corporate involvement in agriculture has also largely been intensified since post-Second World War. Some refer to it inappropriately as the "green revolution" - it should instead be called the "corporate chemical revolution". It has led to the industrialization even of the basics of the food system and that being seeds. Whoever controls the seeds controls agriculture and farmers have historically been the caretakers of this most important and invaluable resource. Corporate America, the likes of Monsanto and others, have patented and genetically modified many of these precious seeds and by doing so have taken farmers, as much as possible, out of competition and away from being the caretakers of our food system.
When making the above statement about seeds, however, it's important to mention also that many farmers and community groups throughout the world have taken action to counter this trend by saving seeds and therefore protecting our heritage seeds as much as possible. Organic farmers will access this important resource or save the seeds themselves for the next year's crop as farmers have always done historically and that corporate agribusiness has been trying to prevent.
Sadly, the American public has not been vigilant in protecting itself or others throughout the world from corporate agribusiness much less from corporate supported genetically modified seeds. This has been coupled with an increased reliance on chemicals in our food system - even in some of the seeds themselves. Europe, for example, is wisely banning GMO seeds and has for some time. European researchers are now indicating that kidney and liver problems can result from GMO corn from seeds produced by the Monsanto. This will be debated for some time as Monsanto will do whatever it wants to do in twisting the facts to benefit itself - the company has generally had the free ride in America.
The point is, however, the Europeans use the "precautionary" principle for their population. They don't let products possibly considered unsafe into the food system - they will take the necessary precautionary steps before allowing potentially unsafe foods into their countries. Why don't we in America apply the same principle? Why should we let Monsanto experiment on us and others throughout the world?
Americans have essentially handed over their food and well being to corporate agribusiness. We're all vulnerable because of that. We've seen our communities become more obese, with more high blood pressure, cancers and a whole host of problems we are now trying to contend with. "Food Rules" writer Michael Pollan wisely makes the point that when going to the grocery stores people should only buy what's on the periphery of the store because that's were all the fresh and healthy foods are generally located. That's what we need to eat, he says, and not all the junk food from corporate America that have all kinds of additives and sodium and chemicals that have been partly responsible for destroying our health. How can we change this?
The hopeful sign in America is that in the last agriculture census in 2007 we have seen an increase in the number of small farmers in America and an increase in women farmers. We are also seeing an increase in farmers markets and direct marketing (farmer-to-consumer) generally across the country. These are positive signs. This is somewhat countered by the loss of middle range farmers and more consolidation of huge corporate farms as indicated in the 2007 census. Nevertheless, we are witnessing some positive changes in the agriculture landscape in America.
We are also seeing an increase in urban agriculture in America. With it jobs are being created along with healthy, fresh affordable produce all of which are now beginning to become available in communities throughout the country. Even Tom Vilsack, Obama's Secretary of Agriculture, has created an urban garden right on the property of the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington DC. The First Lady Michelle Obama has also initiated a garden on the White House grounds. The trend is a positive one.
Why urban agriculture? Because, we as Americans need to re-claim our food sovereignty. It's as simple as that and as profound as that. Plus, most of us are now living in cities. If that's where we are, we need to be growing our own food and feeding our own families and communities. Existing farmers in rural areas should be doing the same. Most are generally growing for corporate America with their major commodity production such as corn, soy, cotton or cattle. Some are engaged in diverse and healthy vegetable production but we need more of them. Rural farmers too need to be growing food for their families and communities as most have generally done historically. So farmers, whether in rural or in urban America, can be growing organic and healthy foods and all of us can be part of that solution by supporting them and encouraging this and/or in growing produce ourselves.
In addition to the above, and to summarize, urban agriculture can play a critical role in reversing many of the negative aspects of industrial agriculture. Urban farming enhances the health of metropolitan residents, creates "green" jobs, produces affordable locally grown organic fruits and vegetables; teaches people to grow their own foods; re-connects people to their food and the land; and strengthens the environment through reduced fossil fuel dependence.
It seems that turning away from relying on corporate America to generate wealth and well-being is perhaps one of the most valid positions we can take right now. We can do this by strengthening our locally owned and controlled economies, keeping wealth in our own communities and even and especially by growing our own food.
This now edited article first appeared on Counterpunch.