State trooper deemed ‘Trooper of the Year’ dismissed for faking over 40 DUI arrests

DWI-popupBy DAN FROSCH

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.

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