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Credibility of controversial trooper questioned again

2nd case involving Lisa Steed dismissed, while UHP pulls her off street

Published: Thursday, April 26 2012 5:21 p.m. MDT

A motorist suspected on driving while under the influence of a control substance performs a field sobriety test conducted by UHP trooper Lisa Steed in Davis County Feb. 12, 2010. She has been reassigned after two separate judges dismissed criminal cases against defendants she has investigated because of questions about the trooper's credibility.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News

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FARMINGTON — For the second time in a week, a decorated Utah Highway Patrol trooper's credibility has been found lacking, leading to the dismissal of criminal charges against someone she investigated.

The UHP decided Thursday to take trooper Lisa Steed off the streets as prosecutors in Davis County — where Steed is currently assigned — are taking a second look at all cases she's connected with.

"If trooper Steed's investigative or testimonial credibility is an issue at all to prove any element or constitutional component of a case ... the case will be dismissed," Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said. "Those are the instructions I've given to my staff."

While he said cases that only involve Steed in a minor way might be able to proceed, those relying on her testimony in any significant way will no longer be pursued.  

"Our obligation and duty as public prosecutors is to fairness, justice and constitutional principles, not to vindicate trooper Steed by going forward," Rawlings said. "We do not want those who are innocent, or even those who may have violated the law, to be potential victims of the justice system based on trooper Steed's misconduct if a case rests in whole, or in part, on her credibility."

Steed was heralded as the UHP Trooper of the Year in 2009 after racking up 400 DUI arrests. She was the first woman in the state to receive the honor.

But now, two separate judges have found that she is not credible and have thrown out two cases stemming from traffic stops she initiated.

Charges against Stephanie Nieder were dropped Thursday after 2nd District Judge Robert Dale found that Steed's testimony was "exaggerated, inconsistent and lacked credibility," according to defense attorney Greg Law.

Alexander Theron Dow's DUI case was dropped Tuesday in 3rd District Court. In that case, Judge Mark Kouris declared that Steed's testimony was "not truthful."

Law said he knows several other defense attorneys who are trying to pull Steed's personnel file to use it in their cases. Law said the file includes a number of letters of reprimand issued to the trooper.

"Trooper Steed has been reprimanded several times for not following policy," he said, pointing to allegations that she turns off her microphone during recorded traffic stops. "She turned off her microphone on this stop and during the preliminary hearing, her testimony was ... 'I guess my battery went dead.' I filed a GRAMA (public records) request and pulled her stops for the entire day (and) there was no audio on any of them.

"She'd been reprimanded in the past and knowingly violated the policy again."

Law said Steed willfully violates policy by turning off her external microphone, asks people to take a breathalyzer test before conducting field sobriety tests against policy and escorts people out of the view of her dashboard camera during traffic stops.

"I think she thinks that because the UHP turns a blind eye to her, she has tacit approval to keep this up," Law said. "She has huge numbers. I think she's a disgrace to the department."

He said his records from hearings in the case show that Steed "lies with impunity" on the witness stand and thinks the UHP needs to have her undergo psychological testing "to see what makes her tick."

"Her actions reflect poorly on the whole department and law enforcement as a whole," Law said. "There are too many people whose lives have been adversely affected and they don't get a refund. ... She is ruining people's lives because of her agenda."

UHP spokesman Dwayne Baird issued a statement Thursday saying Steed "will be reassigned to a non-law enforcement capacity within the Department of Public Safety until this matter is resolved."

He said the UHP went to the Utah Attorney General's Office earlier this week after Kouris' ruling and asked it to look at the case. The office reviewed the matter with Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and it was decided that the Utah County Attorney's Office should conduct an official investigation.

"The UHP asked that an outside agency investigate this matter as to possible violations of law regarding the trooper's testimony," Baird said. "The Utah Highway Patrol will conduct a separate inquiry as to any possible violations of policy."

Steed's attorney, Greg Skordas, said his client is not a party to these cases, so the action she can take is limited.

"She doesn't have any standing to challenge what's going on here," he said. "It's a frustrating position to be in."

He said there is little that she can say in terms of the allegations about her conduct and her credibility, but law enforcement is Steed's passion and she hopes to be able to keep doing what she loves.

"She's very upset," Skordas said. "An officer's credibility is everything. I think that her department is going to scrutinize her very closely. I think that the courts and prosecutors will scrutinize her closely and I think that will put a lot of pressure on her. All I hope, and what she hopes, is that each case will be evaluated separately."

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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