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Utah Highway Patrol investigating trooper over false testimony
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It began as many trials do: A uniformed law enforcement officer, standing before judge and jury, raised his right hand and swore to tell the truth. The whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

But it didn't take long for this oath to be called into question and the case itself to unravel.

Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Bryan Gardner's testimony — and honesty — have come under scrutiny in the aftermath of a June trial at which the trooper alleged that Moses Gai Geng, 35, admitted to hitting his girlfriend and grabbing the steering wheel, causing the couple to crash.

The case was dismissed when video evidence proved the trooper's reports and sworn testimony were, at best, inaccurate.

All charges were dropped. The jury went home. The trooper was reminded of his 5th Amendment rights, which protect him from self-incrimination.

Defense attorney Jesse Nix had never seen anything like it.

"A lot of times, you have human error— someone forgets or enough time has passed that they remember things differently than how they actually happened," Nix said. "But this is the first time I've ever seen it this blatant. This is a case where you have a trooper who is untruthful and being caught in his lie on the stand."

On Friday, after inquiries from The Salt Lake Tribune, UHP and the Department of Public Safety began a full-scale investigation into Gardner's conduct in this case and others. Next week, department officials will meet with Salt Lake City prosecutors to figure out why they weren't notified of Gardner's questionable testimony.

"Typically, prosecutors let us know when there's an issue in court," said UHP Capt. Doug McCleve. "[City prosecutors] did call our office, but the discussion was more along the lines of court preparation."

It's anyone's guess what happened in court that day, said Department of Public Safety spokesman Dwayne Baird, adding Gardner has been a state trooper for about eight years and has never before had any disciplinary issues involving his credibility or testimony in court.

Maybe the trooper was unprepared for trial. Maybe he confused information he received from other witnesses with information he received from Geng and was betrayed by his own faulty memory. Or maybe he lied.

It may take several weeks to determine the truth.

The crash • The agency's investigation will go back to the beginning — more than two years before Gardner delivered his testimony in 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City.

Gardner responded to a crash along Interstate 80, on the west edge of Salt Lake City, just after 11 p.m. on Feb. 18, 2011.

A woman was seen wandering the shoulder along the wind-whipped road.

The video begins after Gardner picked her up. She told him she had been driving her pickup when Geng, her boyfriend, hit her in the head, grabbed the steering wheel and ran them off the road.

Rachael Weaver, 41, said she and Geng had been drinking that night, but assured Gardner she was OK to drive.

Gardner noted that Weaver smelled of alcohol. When he asked her questions, she answered quickly and confidently. Her words were loud, slightly slurred. Later, she would fail a field sobriety test.

"He grabbed the damn steering wheel," she said as they approached the wrecked truck. "He hit me in the head and he grabbed the steering wheel."

Geng, 35, was still seated in the passenger seat when Gardner opened the car door.

"Something happened to my arm," Geng told the trooper in a thick Sudanese accent. "My arm is hurt."

He answered several questions about his identification and his injury.

They talked for several minutes before Gardner called for an ambulance.

As he returned to his cruiser, Gardner radioed his sergeant to update him on the crash.

"I've got a real interesting one here," Gardner said into his radio. "Yeah, he admits he grabbed the steering wheel."

He said, he said • Gardner stuck to his story.

Over the next 3 1/2 hours, as captured by Gardner's dashboard camera, the trooper told a witness, emergency responders and a doctor at Pioneer Valley Hospital that Geng had hit Weaver and jerked the wheel.

In his incident report on the crash, Gardner wrote, "I asked [Geng] about hitting Weaver and he told me he had."

After he was arrested by Gardner, Geng was charged with misdemeanor reckless endangerment for allegedly handling the steering wheel, assault, improper use of lanes and failure to wear a seatbelt. Had he been found guilty, he could have faced fines and up to a year and nine months in jail.

In a probable cause statement filed with the courts on Aug. 1, 2011, Gardner swore, "under criminal penalty of the State of Utah," to the following: "When asked about the incident, the defendant admitted to hitting Weaver but would not answer any further questions."

He would later repeat this story under oath, on the stand. Twice.

At the trial in June, he embellished Geng's alleged confession. This time, Gardner said Geng admitted to being responsible for the crash.

"He told me that he grabbed the steering wheel and the vehicle went off the road," Gardner said. "He told me he had hit [Weaver]."

The problem was the defendant never said any such thing.

In all conversations captured by the dashboard video taken from the inside of Gardner's patrol car on the night of the crash, Geng can be heard fervently denying the trooper's allegations over and over again. At one point, he asks that DNA tests be conducted on the steering wheel of the truck to prove he never laid hands on it.

Case dismissed • The discrepancies between what actually happened and what the trooper reported prompted 3rd District Court Judge Deno Himonas to read Gardner a warning reserved for suspects.

"Trooper, at this point in time I'm going to instruct you of your 5th Amendment rights," the judge said. "You have the right not to say anything that may tend to incriminate you, do you understand?"

After affirming that he understood, Gardner didn't say another word.

Minutes later, the case was dismissed.

Willfully lying on the stand, while under oath, could be grounds for perjury charges. Gardner has not been charged in this case.

"This is something are very much concerned about. We want to make sure our troopers are prepared and testifying to facts of the case," McCleve said. Could this have an impact on Trooper Gardner or the force in the future? Absolutely yes. That's why this is something we're going to look at."

The captain added that all troopers are trained in court testimony at the police academy and that proper preparedness for any court hearing is key.

"Trooper Gardner testified some 2.4 years after the incident that Mr. Geng admitted to both hitting the driver and grabbing the steering wheel of the vehicle," McCleve said in a written statement. "Rather than relying on the police report, Gardner went off memory without consulting the video."

McCleve added that UHP takes any case of questionable testimony seriously.

The accused • Geng is not the most sympathetic of defendants.

Since 2004, the Sudanese refugee has committed a litany of crimes in Salt Lake County including assault, drug possession and carrying a concealed weapon.

After he was arrested by Gardner, Geng was charged with misdemeanor reckless endangerment for allegedly handling the steering wheel, assault, improper use of lanes and failure to wear a seatbelt. Had he been found guilty, he could have faced fines and up to a year and nine months in jail.

Five months after he was questioned by Gardner on the side of the road, Geng was arrested and charged with first-degree felony murder. Those charges were eventually dropped after Geng's codefendant pleaded in the case in 2012.

But Geng's defense attorney, who pointed out the discrepancies between Gardner's testimony and what was recorded in the video, said his client's past shouldn't matter.

"He has maintained his innocence in this case since the very beginning," Nix said. "An untruthful cop is an untruthful cop. And the only way to catch them is to do it in open court. You can't pick your defendants. But it is our responsibility to uphold their rights, whoever they are, and hold law enforcement accountable."

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: @marissa_jae The criminal history of Moses Gai Geng

Since 2004, the Sudanese refugee has committed a litany of crimes in Salt Lake County, including assault, drug possession and carrying a concealed weapon.

After he was arrested by Gardner on Feb. 18, 2011, Geng was charged with misdemeanor reckless endangerment for allegedly handling the steering wheel, assault, improper use of lanes and failure to wear a seat belt. Had he been found guilty, he could have faced fines and up to a year and nine months in jail. The charges were dropped after discrepancies in Trooper Bryan Gardner's testimony surfaced during a court hearing in June 2013.

Five months after he was questioned by Gardner on the side of the road, Geng was arrested and charged with first-degree felony murder. Those charges were eventually dropped after Geng's co-defendant pleaded guilty in the case in 2012.

UHP probe • Video evidence in the June trial proved Bryan Gardner's testimony was, at best, inaccurate.
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