They say a lot of metaphorical smoke usually indicates fire, and the cloud surrounding former Utah Highway Patrol trooper Lisa Steed is deep and dark and getting thicker.
The most recent lawsuit filed against the former Trooper of the Year describes truly outrageous behavior by Steed, who continued to issue DUI tickets long after UHP started receiving many complaints about her conduct.
The latest in nearly a half-dozen lawsuits says Steed, who was honored for her record of more than 200 DUI arrests in 2007, pulled over a disabled man riding a bicycle and forced him to perform sobriety tests. The man has cerebral palsy, seizures and other birth defects. According to the lawsuit, she hauled the man into jail, where he suffered seizures. He was released the next day and no charges were filed.
If these charges are true, Steed is guilty of not only abusing her authority but of committing criminal-level sadism. She is accused of arresting many other sober drivers, particularly the poor and minorities, and abusing them in similar ways, but this case appears especially egregious.
Steed was eventually fired by UHP last year, after she racked up more than 1,000 DUI arrests. Now dozens of those cases are being reviewed after two criminal-court judges found she was untruthful on the witness stand. At least two other judges previously had noted problems with Steed's testimony and conduct.
The FBI is investigating Steed for civil-rights violations.
In upholding the firing in June, an administrative judge said the "publicity surrounding (Steed) was widespread, long term, and notorious. It still continues. It severely undermined the public's trust in UHP and affected the ability of law enforcement to function."
But it isn't the publicity that's undermined public trust. News reporters did their job in exposing Steed. The UHP failed in its mission to keep troopers honest.
The problem with Steed and some other police and UHP officers is that their conduct was not being monitored, and complaints were not taken seriously.
If Attorney General John Swallow were not also the target of numerous investigations, it would be appropriate to ask his office to conduct a statewide audit of law enforcement in Utah.
Utahns can only hope that agencies charged with protecting the public are now, considering the distrust engendered by Lisa Steed and her ilk, more focused on arresting real criminals and less on harassing innocent motorists.
Trooper of the Year, indeed.