IOWA CITY, Iowa — An Iowa police supervisor with a history of misconduct has been demoted after an off-duty road rage incident in which he grabbed a motorist by the neck.
Waterloo Police Chief Daniel Trelka wrote in his disciplinary decision that he could have fired Lt. Corbin Payne for lapses in “judgment, discipline, professionalism, and integrity.” He noted that Payne was previously suspended for assaulting a juvenile detainee in a similar fashion and that Payne admitted to improperly using police databases to research the motorist.
But Trelka ultimately demoted Payne to officer, citing Payne’s 21 years of service while acknowledging that his continued employment exposes the city to liability for “negligent retention.”
Trelka’s Feb. 13 decision, which cut Payne’s annual salary from $90,000 to $70,000, was obtained under the open records law. Payne’s union is appealing the demotion, which came after jurors in January acquitted Payne of assault causing bodily injury in the June 2016 altercation. Payne had been the supervisor of a regional drug enforcement task force.
Mayor Quentin Hart decided last September to retain Trelka despite several incidents in which officers used questionable force and inappropriate language, leading to costly settlements and embarrassing revelations. Hart ordered the chief to rebuild public trust. The mayor also signed Payne’s demotion, which noted that one citizen called Payne a “bully with a badge.” Hart and Trelka declined comment, noting that an arbitrator will hear the appeal.
Payne was placed on paid leave after the incident, which began when 22-year-old restaurant delivery driver Robert Carlisle allegedly sped by and cut off a car driven by Payne’s wife. Payne was a passenger. Their car followed Carlisle into a parking lot. Carlisle and a passerby testified that Payne, wearing swim trunks and smelling of alcohol, got out, struck Carlisle’s vehicle with his hand, screamed at Carlisle to get out, pulled him from the car and grabbed him by the throat before throwing him back in and fleeing. Officers found red marks on Carlisle’s neck and body.
At trial, Payne didn’t deny touching or throwing Carlisle but he did so after Carlisle got out and approached him aggressively. Despite the acquittal, Payne committed numerous missteps that violated department rules, showed poor judgment and abused his power, Trelka wrote.
Payne shouldn’t have confronted the driver while he’d been drinking and had no service weapon, Trelka wrote, adding that Payne failed to identify himself as an officer until after he had used force. He said it was dangerous to approach the vehicle, that Payne’s use of force against the much-smaller driver was potentially excessive and that it was unacceptable to leave the scene without calling the police.
When he later called 911, Payne used unprofessional language, questioned what the driver reported about him and asked the dispatcher to run Carlisle’s license plate. Payne had “questionable intentions” in asking the dispatcher which officers were investigating, later calling the supervisor in a move that created the perception of a cover-up, Trelka added.
Payne, 46, admitted he used department databases and equipment repeatedly to access information about Carlisle. The Department of Public Safety later suspended Payne’s access to records that it controls. His queries may have violated the federal Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act, which allows motorists’ personal information to be accessed only for business, Trelka wrote.
In 2010, Payne was suspended for using excessive force against a juvenile in a holding cell — an assault similar to the road rage case, Trelka wrote. The next month, Payne was belligerent to officers who responded to a verbal altercation involving Payne at a Clear Lake tavern. Payne refused to follow directions and threatened to complain to their chief before he was let go with a warning.
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