|01-04-2013, 03:03 PM||Topic Starter|
It's Five O'Clock Somewhere
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Suit Claims Officer Faked D.U.I. Cases
What a ****.
There was a time not so long ago when Lisa Steed’s stock as a corporal in the Utah Highway Patrol was soaring.
Passionate about police work, with a wide smile and a notable number of driving-under-the-influence arrests to show for her diligence, Corporal Steed was named trooper of the year by her superiors in 2007, her career seemingly heading toward the inevitable promotions.
In November, however, the once promising officer was fired amid a haze of misconduct allegations.
Though the Highway Patrol would not discuss Ms. Steed’s dismissal, a lawsuit claims she falsified dozens of those arrests during her 10-year career.
According to the suit, filed Dec. 14 in District Court in Salt Lake County, Ms. Steed made a career of pulling over drivers who she claimed were driving drunk or under the influence.
There was only one problem. Some of the drivers Ms. Steed arrested had not been drinking, or at least not enough to be reasonably impaired, according to the lawsuit, brought by a group of Utah lawyers on behalf of two plaintiffs.
In several cases, those who were arrested did not drink alcohol, said Robert Sykes, one of the lawyers who filed the complaint, which names Ms. Steed and the Highway Patrol as defendants.
“We were all separately getting calls about Lisa Steed from people saying: ‘I was pulled over. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. She told me I smelled like alcohol, but I hadn’t been drinking,’ ” Mr. Sykes said.
“They would pass the sobriety test with flying colors. But Steed would say they were still impaired and arrest them.”
Mr. Sykes and the other lawyers involved in the case said that they have spoken with more than 40 people who also claimed they were falsely arrested by Ms. Steed. It was part of a pattern the officer engaged in to burnish her reputation with superiors, the lawyers said.
In all of the cases, according to the lawyers, the charges were dropped or reduced, but not before drivers paid bail, car impound or court-related fees that typically exceeded $1,000.
Ms. Steed is in the process of appealing her firing. Her lawyer, Greg Skordas, while not commenting on specific arrests, said that the allegations were overblown and that the overwhelming majority of her arrests had stood up in court.
“She has made thousands of stops and thousands of arrests. She’s had a handful of cases that could really be counted on one hand that have not been supported by evidence,” he said.
“Any mistake by an officer is a problem, and we’re not excusing that. But to have two or three thrown out because of a lack of evidence, that doesn’t tell me there’s a problem.”
Last April, however, the Davis County attorney, Troy Rawlings, said he would dismiss cases where Ms. Steed was the primary investigator or witness. Sim Gill, district attorney for Salt Lake County, also said that he did not plan to prosecute cases involving Ms. Steed.
In a police memorandum from 2010, a Highway Patrol sergeant who reviewed 20 of Ms. Steed’s marijuana-impairment cases found she was indeed arresting drivers who had no drugs in their system.
In the memo, first reported by Salt Lake City news outlets, the sergeant said Ms. Steed would report that the drivers showed visual signs of impairment, and he worried defense lawyers would begin questioning her credibility.
In one 2011 case highlighted in the current lawsuit, Ms. Steed pulled over Thomas Romero in Layton, Utah, for swerving. According to the suit, Mr. Romero told the officer he had not been drinking and he passed several sobriety tests. But Ms. Steed arrested him anyway.
“I told her: ‘You’re making the biggest mistake of your life. I haven’t had nothing to drink,’ ” Mr. Romero recalled in an interview. “I couldn’t believe I was being arrested. I didn’t know what was going on.”
While being processed at the Davis County Jail, Mr. Romero passed a blood test. All charges were eventually dropped.
In another case, Ms. Steed pulled over Julie Tapia for speeding as she was driving home. Ms. Tapia was giving a ride to her ex-husband, who had been drinking, but Ms. Tapia herself does not drink, the suit said.
Ms. Steed claimed Ms. Tapia failed a field sobriety test and arrested her. But blood tests showed no presence of impairing drugs or alcohol in her system, according to the suit. The charges were ultimately dismissed.
Michael Studebaker, another lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said that he believes there are at least hundreds of additional tainted arrests involving Ms. Steed. “The 40 or so individuals that have contacted us have to be the tip of the iceberg because Steed arrested many other people,” he said. “Her actions are so blatant, that it is probable that she acted like this in an untold number of cases.”
A citizen review board is expected to hear Ms. Steed’s appeal over her firing in the coming months.