Utah trooper with credibility issues is taken off patrol
Beleaguered Utah Highway Patrol Cpl. Lisa Steed whose credibility about traffic stops has been questioned in court has been taken off the road by her superiors.
Dwayne Baird, a UHP spokesman, confirmed Thursday that Steed was reassigned a day earlier. Baird said Steed will work in a "non-law enforcement capacity" while she is investigated by UHP and the Utah County Attorney's Office.
The Utah County investigation will examine whether Steed committed any crimes while testifying in a Salt Lake County case that was dismissed earlier this week.
Also Thursday, a judge dismissed a second case involving Steed and the Davis County Attorney's Office said it would dismiss any cases where she would be a significant witness.
"If there is sufficient evidence for a conviction completely independent of Trooper Steed â¦ the case might continue," Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said in a written statement to reporters.
"However, if Trooper Steed's investigative or testimonial credibility is an issue at all to prove any element or constitutional component of a case [like the basis for a vehicle stop or a search], the case will be dismissed," Rawlings' statement added. Steed is currently assigned to patrol Davis County.
Steed's attorney, Greg Skordas, said he has never seen such a statement from a prosecutor. Rawlings' policy, Skordas said, could set guilty people free.
"He's being overly cautious, but that's his job," Skordas said.
Earlier this week, in the Salt Lake County case, 3rd District Judge Mark Kouris suppressed the evidence, saying Steed "wasn't truthful" when she testified about why her microphone wasn't on during a 2010 traffic stop. A UHP spokesman said afterward that the highway patrol would investigate Steed's credibility.
Then, on Thursday in a Davis County case, 2nd District Judge Robert Dale sided with defendant Stephanie Nieder and suppressed evidence against her, a court docket shows. The Davis County Attorney's Office immediately dismissed the three misdemeanor traffic charges and one felony drug-possession charge.
Defense attorney Greg Law said the judge found Steed had changed her testimony as the case proceeded and Steed did not have probable cause to search Nieder's truck.
"He said her testimony, overall, lacked credibility," Law said.
The case dismissed Thursday also examined Steed not using a microphone.
On Jan. 29, 2011, Steed was driving on Redwood Road in North Salt Lake when Nieder drove past her in the opposite lane. Steed testified that Nieder crossed the center line and almost hit her driver's side mirror, Law said. But Law said dashboard video shows the two vehicles weren't that close, Steed did not react with a swerve or by braking, and the video shows Steed was traveling 18 mph above the posted speed limit at the time.
Steed turned around and pulled over Nieder. Steed testified Nieder's pupils were dilated, she was grinding her teeth and her hands were moving uncontrollably, as though she was under the influence of methamphetamine.
Steed had Nieder take field sobriety tests and claimed she had failed. But Law said the video indicates Nieder actually passed. In one field test designed to determine if Nieder was high on drugs, the result showed Nieder would have been under the influence of a depressant, not a stimulant, Law said.
Nieder says Steed then asked permission to search her truck and Nieder said no. But Steed testified in a preliminary hearing that she never asked for permission and instead put Nieder in handcuffs and searched her truck based on probable cause of a crime. Steed found a backpack with baggies of meth and a pipe, according to court documents.
While a video camera captured the stop, there was no audio with it. Law said Steed testified at one hearing in the case that her microphone battery died. Then at a second hearing, Steed testified she did not turn on her microphone at all that night, Law said.
Law said the video shows Nieder and Steed had a conversation. Law contends that is where Steed asked for permission to search.
"It certainly bolsters my client's version that she was asked for consent, which was denied," said Law, who, before becoming an attorney, was a police officer in Farmington, N.M., and Phoenix.
Law said Steed also contradicted herself about measuring Nieder's pupils. At the first hearing, Law said, Steed testified she used a device at the Davis County jail to determine Nieder's pupils were dilated. At the second hearing, Law said, Steed said she never measured the pupils and only estimated their size.
"She's the only trooper, the only law-enforcement officer I've gone up against [where] their policy and procedures are completely against law-enforcement protocol," Law said.