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Dear Detective Jeff Payne,

When I was scrolling through my Instagram feed after a day of moving to our new home, the last thing I expected to see was a nurse being chased and handcuffed.  The last thing I expected to hear was a nurse sobbing and screaming as she was pinned against a wall with her hands behind her back. It was pretty upsetting.

After I saw the video, I read multiple news articles about it.  I read the American Nurses Association’s official statement and the statements from Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Police Chief Mike Brown. I tried to understand this as best I could after I saw that body cam footage. I appreciated their responses in how they are dealing with this in multiple internal and external investigations, policy changes, and communications.

Despite this, I just couldn’t get my mind around why this happened in the first place.

Why was handling this situation in that manner even an option to you?  It honestly seemed pretty routine to you. That is what was scary to me about this.  

The way you conducted yourself was pretty alarming, despite the fact that your mayor stated she’s been working with the police department on de-escalation techniques.  You seemed to be the one who escalated, rather than being the one who would facilitate de-escalation.  

Like Alex, I am also a nurse. I tell people no all the time. I don’t do that just to make things harder for someone else, I do it because it’s expected of me in many circumstances.  I promise, it’s not a power trip… it’s just necessary sometimes.  Just because someone wants something… or thinks they have a right to something doesn’t mean they actually do. And many times, it falls to the nurse to not only come to that conclusion, but communicate it, and deal with whatever negative response that comes with it in an appropriate and professional manner.  

It’s important for me to explain to you the mindset behind a nurse caring for any patient, but particularly an unconscious trauma patient who was the victim of a crime.

As a nurse, sometimes I feel like a gatekeeper or a bodyguard for my patient.  If someone wants something from my patient… if physical therapy wants to work with them, if the lab wants to get some blood, if a visitor wants to see them… they’ve got to go through me first. By utilizing my nursing judgement, I determine if it’s safe, appropriate, necessary, and in this case, legal.

I feel like their protector.  And I love it.  I love being able to stand up and care for someone when they can’t do it for themselves. I know their rights as a patient and I am grateful to be in a position in which I can protect those rights.  It gives me honor to do this.  

What makes this situation so upsetting is that I never thought myself or a fellow nurse colleague could be in danger of being arrested while doing what gives me so much honor and joy. I can deal with upset family members, angry patients, and irritated visitors. 

What’s terrifying is when someone who is in a position of power, like a detective, tries to use their authority to scare someone into complying with their request… even if they don’t have the right to ascertain this request. How can one enforce the law if they don’t know the updated policy?

Calmly handcuffing someone and putting them in a squad car is one thing. Chasing after someone and pinning them against a wall while they’re sobbing is another. This wasn’t some irate, belligerent person resisting arrest. This was a professional nurse with their supervisor on the line, surrounded by support staff, in their place of work, calmly talking to you.

If this is an acceptable level of force to use in a situation like this to you, I cringe at the thought of the person who doesn’t have support around them, who is alone, who has done nothing wrong, with whom you are upset, yet has the right to refuse a request you’ve made…

Like law officers, policy is something which also guides a nurse’s practice.  We are all too familiar with the world of policies. Policies are updated for a reason.  It is your duty as a prudent officer of the law to know them.  

As I am sure you are aware, police officers are held to a higher standard. In moments of frustration, anger, disrespect, and so forth, you are expected to possess your soul. It is a minimal expectation for you, of all people, to be in control of your emotions. While being a nurse and a police officer are not one in the same, there is some common ground as trusted civil servants held to a higher standard, especially in the midst of incredibly intense moments. This was no exception. Regardless of how frustrated you may have been, the fact that you went there demonstrated a lack of your ability to maintain your composure, which is highly concerning.

I’d like to believe that this incident wasn’t just as simple as you’re a jerk and went on a power trip.  While that very well may be the case, there’s also the possibility that isn’t the entire story.  When I saw it I had to stop myself from jumping to conclusions. I’ve never met you. I don’t know you, your personality, your faults, your strengths, your tendencies.  However, once seeing that video, I saw a part of you.  And now, I have so many questions. While none of the below would justify what resulted, it would help me better understand your mindset and what led up to this incident. I believe knowing these answers is essential to preventing this from happening again with yourself or colleagues when in similar circumstances. 

  • Were you already having a rough day before you got the call about the accident you had to investigate?
  • Was your supervisor pressuring you for the blood, and get it quickly?
  • Were you frustrated with how long it was taking you to get the blood?
  • Did you have any hesitancy or desire to explore why you were receiving such resistance from the nurse and facility? Did you care why?
  • Do you think they hospital wanted to comply with the law?
  • Practically speaking, how are you informed about policy changes?
  • Have you ever had to obtain blood from an unconscious patient who cannot give consent?
  • How do you, as an officer of the law, mentally and emotionally process frustrating situations in which you must maintain your composure?
  • When you made the decision to arrest, why did you immediately put your hands on the nurse rather than asking her to turn around and place her hands behind her back?
  • Is this how you were trained to deal with situations like this?
  • Have you ever escalated like this before?
  • If so, have you ever been reprimanded for it?

I just want to make sure you know also why this is so scary to the public and the nursing community. It’s not just a mistake at work, a misread policy, a lack of understanding that you can just move past and get back to work.  

You terrified that nurse. You terrified the public.

This is the opposite of what should happen with law enforcement. We’re supposed to trust you to do the right thing, to de-escalate, to maintain composure. This shattered that trust for many… and many who already have distrust in law enforcement just saw a detective terrify a nurse at work who was doing the right thing.

I think people assume officers of the law never respond to a frustrating situation with anger. Again, as someone who also deals with frustrating situations out of my control, I can get how things can go downhill quickly. I’m not naive enough to assume police never lose their cool. But the response shouldn’t be silence, it should be professional accountability. This is how change happens – when someone messes up, they make themselves an example of how mistakes should be handled. If you lost your cool and know you messed up, own it and apologize. This is how culture change occurs. I think what frustrates people is when someone in law enforcement does mess up, there is never a sincere apology or standing up to take accountability. It’s an official statement, administrative leave, and that’s that.  A genuine, sincere apology in which it is painfully clear that you accept the responsibility for your actions and are disappointed with yourself in how you handled this, coming from your voice alone, would speak volumes.

Maybe you’re not sorry. Maybe this isn’t a big deal to you.  I just need you to know that this is a big deal. This is a big deal to the public – and this is a big deal to the nursing community. There should be a collegiality between law enforcement and nurses and it feels like you grossly violated that.  Just as you would trust us to care for a fellow officer injured on the job, we trust you to know and protect our rights and the rights of our patients. Gaining that back after seeing this footage feels like an uphill battle. 

I’m hoping that whatever inside of you that caused you to respond in this manner is explored if you begin working again.  I’m hoping that this incident will cause the police department to evaluate if others act similarly and work to change the culture from the inside out.  I’m hoping this isn’t just a pause in work for you for an investigation to occur that you don’t believe is necessary, but a time for deep reflection, self-evaluation, sincerity, and humility.  

There is a real opportunity here for law enforcement and nursing to come together and demonstrate the respect we should have for one another and the value we place on our duty to serve the public. Please do not miss it.

Sincerely,

Kati Kleber, RN

 

 

 

If you want more background about the situation discuss above, this article from The Washington Post has a thorough summary.

To learn more about Kati, please visit KatiKleber.com.