DUI case dismissed after judge rules Utah trooper not credible
West Jordan • In a rare ruling that could impact other criminal cases, a judge on Tuesday found a convicted felon more credible than beleaguered Utah Highway Patrol Cpl. Lisa Steed.
Third District Court Judge Mark Kouris found Steed gave false testimony last month about reprimands issued to her. Therefore, Kouris could not rely on her testimony that driving-under-the influence suspect Theron Alexander had a broken license plate light on the night Steed pulled him over.
Kouris suppressed the evidence from the 2010 traffic stop. Prosecutors in the courtroom Tuesday immediately dismissed the charges.
"I think it's fair to say it wasn't truthful," Judge Mark Kouris said of Steed's testimony last month.
Alexander's attorney, Joseph Jardine, said he's never heard of a judge making such a ruling against a Utah police officer.
"It's a mistake to have a trooper with her track record on the street," Jardine said of Steed, who was not present for Tuesday's hearing.
Steed's attorney, Greg Skordas, said she stands by her testimony and her arrest of Alexander, 54. Skordas did not think Kouris' ruling would impact Steed's employment with UHP, but acknowledged that other defense lawyers representing those she arrests may try the same tactic: using reprimands contained in her personnel file to discredit her testimony.
"Her cases will be scrutinized on a case by case basis henceforth," Skordas said. "We'll have to see if there are similar motions filed."
The Alexander case was closely watched for that reason. The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office has said it was reviewing DUI arrests made by Steed and had supplied her discipline information to other defense attorneys.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Chief Deputy Blake Nakamura was in the gallery Tuesday. After court he said Steed's cases will be reviewed individually.
"Each case is going to stand on its own," Nakamura said.
Steed said she stopped Alexander who has prior felony convictions for drug possession on Jan. 2, 2010, near 5900 South and 700 West because his license plate light was out. He subsequently was charged with drug possession and driving under the influence.
Alexander testified last month the light was working and also said he used heroin earlier that day.
The trooper's dashcam video was inconclusive regarding whether the tail light was out or not, which made Steed's truthfulness a key issue in the case.
Jardine sought Steed's disciplinary file to attack her credibility and found records showing the officer received a reprimand in 2010 for removing a microphone from her uniform during a traffic stop.
Steed last month testified that she told superiors she removed it so she could administer a breath test before a field sobriety test itself a violation of UHP policy without her lieutenant learning about the breath-test violation.
But a UHP sergeant and a lieutenant testified Tuesday that they had no recollection of Steed making that excuse at the time. Instead, the written reprimand Steed received for removing the microphone shows she claimed she did not know why she removed it.
Still, Kouris at first ruled against Alexander's motion to suppress the evidence, saying it was "apples and oranges" to compare bending the truth to a superior to making a false statement about why she pulled over someone. Then Jardine stepped to the podium and said that if Kouris couldn't believe Steed's testimony, then he couldn't trust Alexander's constitutional rights weren't violated in the traffic stop.
"At a minimum, the court should not believe her," Jardine said.
Kouris reconsidered. He said Alexander's testimony that he checked all his lights before driving that night was suspicious, but since the dashboard camera video of the traffic stop didn't show whether the light was working there was nothing to corroborate Steed's testimony.
This time he ruled in Alexander's favor.
"I'm glad something went right," Alexander said outside the courtroom with a smile. "The light was working."
Steed a one-time Utah Highway Patrol Trooper of the Year is currently assigned to patrol Davis County.
UHP spokesman Dwayne Baird attended Tuesday's hearing.