UHP comes under fire over internal memo questioning trooper's arrest practices

Published: Friday, Oct. 12 2012 9:47 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.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Highway Patrol has come under fire over a memo leaked to the media this week that questions a discredited trooper's DUI arrest practices as far back as 2010.

Lisa Steed, UHP's Trooper of the Year in 2009, was re-assigned to a non-law enforcement position in April after it was revealed in 3rd District Court that she violated department policies by issuing a Breathalyzer test before conducting a field sobriety test and purposely leaving her microphone in her cruiser that would have recorded 2010 traffic stop.

That revelation led to at least two of Steed's DUI cases being thrown out after judges questioned her credibility as a witness.

In an internal memo from Sgt. Rob Nixon to his section commander at the time, Lt. Steve Winward, Nixon identifies 11 of Steed's DUI arrests in which no impairing drugs were found in the defendants' systems.

On Friday, UHP officials said the 2010 memo never should have been made public.

"How that record got released and how it made it into circulation, we're not aware of how that happened," UHP Maj. Michael Rapich said during a news conference Friday afternoon.

On Thursday, Salt Lake City media outlets made public a 2010 memo in which Nixon wrote he had reviewed 20 of Steed's 2009 DUI-drug reports where the person arrested was allegedly impaired on marijuana. On four of those instances, those stopped by Steed had no drugs in their systems, and seven others showed only metabolite — traces of a controlled substance — but no impairing drugs in their systems.

"I feel this is a pattern," Nixon's memo states. "This is something that needs to be addressed before defense attorneys catch on and her credibility, along with the DUI squad's credibility, is compromised."

Rapich said the information in the memo is private. And he said accusations that UHP was aware of Steed's questionable arrest practices in 2010 and covered them up are unfounded.

"Clearly the section commander felt that there was something that needed to be addressed there, and it was addressed," Rapich said. "How that was done and the steps that were taken, those were performance-related issues, and I can't go into specifically what they were."

Rapich said that there are four phases of discipline — written referendum, suspension, demotion and dismissal. He said the department had no reason to proceed with those actions in Steed's case at the time the memo was written.

"Had either the first-line supervisor or the section commander felt that it was to a point that (Steed) needed to be released from the DUI squad, they would have done so," Rapich said.

Twitter: @FinleyJY

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