From 2009 to 2010, Utah trooper Lisa Steed made a jaw-dropping 750 DUI arrests. That’s nearly two arrests for every single day of the year (which becomes all the more staggering when you stop to consider that Steed, of course, had vacations and days off). Impressing her superiors with an apparently unmatched dedication to justice, Steed was celebrated by the department and named Utah Highway Patrol Trooper of the Year. But, after a brief period in the sun, Steed fell from grace when local media outlets decided to do some digging into her suspiciously prolific arrest record. What they found ultimately cost Steed her job — and now, a year later, prosecutors are seeking a whopping $30 million in damages.
Trooper of the Year, Or Predator?
In 2010, Lisa Steed was the poster child for the Utah State Highway Patrol. By the end of 2012, she’d been fired. So what happened in between?
City Weekly and KUTV were just a few of the local news outlets who raised an eyebrow at Steed’s almost unbelievable year. As reporters have a tendency to do, they went snooping for facts — and uncovered a nasty surprise. Steed’s arrests weren’t exactly legitimate. They weren’t even legal. At least, that’s what prosecuting attorney Robert Sykes of Salt Lake City would say.
Sykes is alleging that Steed is “a predator. She preyed on the innocent. She used illegal techniques to make stops.”
Those “illegal techniques” include making false claims after conducting field sobriety tests, making stops when no laws had been even seemingly violated, and violating a medley of policies mandated by her own department. Sykes, who is filing a triple-pronged lawsuit against not only Steed, but also the Utah State Highway Patrol and the state of Utah itself, is joined in his battle by Utah residents Thomas Romero and Julie Tapia. Tapia claims she was arrested for DUI by Steed despite being completely sober, and was eventually released when BAC tests turned up a negative result.
But Tapia’s claims aren’t the only evidence Sykes is pointing to. After a review of dash-cam videos, Sykes found that in 22 out of 25 cases, individuals being questioned by Steed were not, in fact, “swaying,” as the ex-trooper had written in reports. In 15 out of 28 cases, field sobriety tests were conducted off-camera, which is raising red flags. “What this shows,” says Sykes, “is a pattern of violating her own rules. You’ve got essentially no supervision of this woman who’s out of control.”
A Case Without Merit?
Sykes estimates that as many as 2,000 Utah residents could have had their legal rights violated — or even been wrongly arrested — during Steed’s alleged reign of terror. “I have no doubt,” says Sykes, “that as we continue going through these videos, we’ll find more.”
As for the defense, they seem unimpressed by Sykes’ claims. Paul Murphy, a spokesperson for the office of the Utah Attorney General, had this much to say: “We think the lawsuit is completely without merit and highly doubt it will ever be certified as a class action lawsuit.”
For the time being, at least, he is correct: the case has yet to be certified as a class action lawsuit. The fate of the case will be decided by a Davis County District Judge sometime within the next few months. Until then, Sykes will stand by his allegations.
If you or a loved one is facing DUI charges in the state of Utah, contact the law offices of defense attorney Darwin Overson to arrange for a free legal consultation.