Lawsuit claims Utah police officer made falsified DUI arrests
By Brittany Green-Miner and Todd Tanner
MURRAY, Utah – A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the state of Utah and the Utah Highway Patrol on behalf of people who say they were wrongfully accused of DUIs by former UHP Trooper Lisa Steed, who was fired in November.
According to KSTU, documents filed with the Third District Judicial Court in December say that there could be hundreds of people who faced wrongful DUI charges and arrests from Steed.
An attorney filing the suit says some citizens pleaded guilty to Steed’s DUI charges in court because they couldn’t afford to defend themselves. He believes the state owes those victims money for damages including impounded property and lost jobs.
“That night when I got pulled over, lost my truck, lost everything I have, my motor home, everything. That hurts,” said Thomas Romero, one of Steed’s alleged victims.
Romero was pulled over by Steed because of a burnt out light bulb above his license plate, but when she suspected he was drunk, he went to jail. A blood alcohol test later revealed that his BAC was zero, but he couldn’t afford to get his truck out of impound.
Julie Tapia, another alleged victim, shared a similar story.
“She never did give me a sobriety test on the spot even though I asked for it, because I’m like, I haven’t done anything wrong unless I’m drunk on a hamburger, fries and a milkshake. I don’t even drink,” Tapia said.
Attorney Robert Sykes says Thomas and Julie’s stories are common of those pulled over by Steed, who was named UHP Trooper of the Year in 2007, partly for her high number of DUI arrests.
Sykes says attorneys involved in the suit hope to go through all of Steed’s arrest records to try and uncover more discrepancies in her police reports.
Steed was fired from her job in November. She filed an appeal with the state personnel office in December in hopes of regaining her employment.
Steed’s lawyer, Greg Skordas told the New York Times that the allegations against his client are overblown, saying the majority of Steed’s arrests 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.
It doesn’t seem that all of the state’s prosecutors agree with Skordas.
Davis County district attorney Troy Rawlings said he would dismiss cases where 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 Steed.
In a police memorandum from 2010 cited by the Times, a sergeant who reviewed 20 of Ms. Steed’s marijuana-impairment cases found she was indeed arresting drivers who had no drugs in their system.
The memo stated Steed was reporting drivers showed visual signs of impairment. Given that this was the majority of evidence being presented by Steed, the reviewing sergeant reported concern that defense lawyers would begin questioning her credibility.