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Ex-Trooper of the Year 'not truthful,' judge rules

Question of credibility may put other cases under scrutiny

Published: Tuesday, April 24 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

A motorist suspected on driving while under the influence of a control substance performs a field sobriety test conducted by trooper Lisa Steed, right, in Davis County. The motorist was arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana. Feb. 12, 2010.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News

WEST JORDAN — The credibility of a highly decorated Utah Highway Patrol trooper took a big hit Tuesday.

And because of that hit, future and past cases investigated by trooper Lisa Steed may likely come under increased scrutiny.

Third District Judge Mark Kouris ruled Tuesday that testimony in a DUI case from Steed — the Utah Highway Patrol's 2009 Trooper of the Year — was not believable. As a result, he dismissed a criminal case against Theron Dow Alexander, 54.

"Based on the fact that it would appear today that both sides concede that the statement Steed made is not accurate, which is to say it's not truthful ... the defense motion (to suppress evidence) is granted," Kouris said.

Alexander's defense attorney, Joseph Jardine, said Kouris' finding could jeopardize any traffic stop Steed makes in the future.

"The judge specifically found that (Steed) was not credible in this case," Jardine said. "For law enforcement, credibility is everything."

Jardine filed a motion to suppress the evidence stemming from Steed's traffic stop of Alexander on Jan. 5, 2010. Steed claimed she pulled the man over because the light over his license plate was burned out.

Alexander was adamant that this was untrue and said Tuesday that almost as soon as she came to the window, Steed accused him of being under the influence. Alexander was charged with three counts of possession or use of a controlled substance, a second-degree felony, a class A misdemeanor possession charge, possession of drug paraphernalia and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, both class B misdemeanors.

Jardine obtained Steed's personnel file and discovered that the trooper had been issued a letter of reprimand in November of 2010 for failing to wear her external microphone during a videotaped DUI-related traffic stop. Wearing the microphone is required under UHP policy.

Steed testified that she told her supervisors from the beginning that she had not worn the microphone because she didn't want her supervisor to know that she made the suspect take a breathalyzer test before administering field sobriety tests against policy.

Tuesday, two of her supervisors testified that Steed only told them about not wearing the microphone after they received a complaint and she told them she "didn't know" why she took the microphone off.

One of the supervisors, UHP Sgt. Robert Nixon, said he noted in his notice of intent to discipline that he felt Steed's actions did not make sense.

"I just stated that I feel it was done on purpose," Nixon said. "There's no reason to (remove the microphone). It could call into question why."

Both Nixon and UHP Lt. Robert Anderson said Steed told them she didn't know why she removed the microphone and that while she later gave them an explanation, it came after the letter of reprimand — not at the beginning as Steed stated in court.

"Trooper Steed — under oath in your courtroom — lied about about what happened," Jardine told Kouris. "Putting any weight on her testimony is an error."

Kouris said the issue of Steed's credibility coupled with the lack of any corroborating evidence about whether the light was, in fact, out on Alexander's vehicle, made the evidence unreliable and he granted the motion to suppress it.

"If in fact she had no reason to pull him over, that's an illegal stop and could all be thrown out," Kouris said. "We have nothing to corroborate what she said. The video doesn't help, the defendant's testimony doesn't help. The only thing we have to go on is if the light is on or not and if not, this is an illegal stop."

Prosecutors then filed a motion to dismiss the case, which Kouris promptly granted.

"It's about time something went right," Alexander said. "She's probably out of a career."

Jardine said he believes that because Kouris found that Steed was not credible, it should impact Steed's future in law enforcement. "I think it's a mistake to have a trooper on the streets with this kind of record," he said.

Utah Department of Public Safety spokesman Dwayne Baird declined to make a comment after the hearing, but confirmed Steed was a "working highway patrol trooper" as of Tuesday.

Steed made 214 arrests in 2008 while working as a trooper in Davis County. The impressive numbers earned her an invitation to join the highway patrol's DUI squad and she netted what is believed to be a state-record 400 DUI arrests in 2009 and she was named Trooper of the Year.

Steed, who was not present at Tuesday's hearing, was the first woman to ever hold the title.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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