Utah Highway Patrol's DUI Super Trooper Lisa Steed | Cover Story | Salt Lake City Weekly

September 08, 2010 News » Cover Story

Utah Highway Patrol's DUI Super Trooper Lisa Steed 

Imbibing, then driving? Better stay out of Steed's way.

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On March 28, 2009, at 1:18 a.m., Utah Highway Patrol trooper Cpl. Lisa Steed pulled over a 24-year-old driver on State Street in South Salt Lake.

When he rolled down his window, she stuck a portable breath test [PBT] device in his face. She could smell alcohol and wanted to see if it was coming from him, she told the driver.

“I would like to speak to my lawyer,” he said.

Steed opened his car door and told him to get out.

In a digital video recording of his arrest which City Weekly obtained through an open-records request, the driver can be seen remaining in his car and asking repeatedly, “Excuse me, ma’am, I’d like to speak to my legal representative first.”

Steed unholstered her Taser. She told him to get out of the car, “or you’re going to get tased, sir, in two seconds.”

Less than two minutes into the traffic stop, Steed pressed her Taser into his left shoulder, an approach called “drive-tasing,” akin to using a Taser as a cattle prod. His screams are chillingly audible on the traffic-stop video, recorded by Steed’s dashboard camera. (UHP policy requires that all traffic stops be recorded.) Almost before the driver had time to react, Steed drive-tased him again, his screams accompanied by the cries of his distraught passenger.

“When you’re told to get out of the car, that’s what you do,” Steed informed the driver after he exited his vehicle.

While she did not defend the driver, when shown the video, DUI defense attorney Tara Isaacson found Steed’s use of force on a driver whose conduct was respectful “truly shocking. Tasers are used as a last resort. You don’t start an investigation with them.”

The UHP doesn’t see a problem with the method. Steed, in an e-mail, says Tasers are used “to avoid going hands-on with individuals and risk injury to the officer or subject.” The driver, whom she says subsequently tested positive for alcohol and marijuana use, refused to comply with her orders, so she tased him. The only problem with the stop, says Steed’s supervisor, UHP Lt. Steve Winward, “was a slight policy violation,” because Steed asked the driver to blow into the PBT prior to requesting that he perform field sobriety tests, contrary to UHP policy. Another UHP official preferred the word “deviation” to “violation.”

In the wake of Utah relaxing its private-club laws in July 2009, Steed’s rise to fame and fortune (she earned $82,953 in 2009, according to Utah’s Right to Know Website) might well represent a triumph of law and order for nondrinkers. Utah’s Legislature certainly admires her. Two weeks after then-Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack’s Jan. 16, 2010, arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol in Salt Lake City, Utah lawmakers honored 32-year-old Steed for her work nailing drunken drivers.

In 2009, Steed racked up an extraordinary 400 DUI arrests, twice the number of any other UHP trooper. Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, congratulated Steed for what was “probably a national record” and said that to average more than two DUI busts a day “was phenomenal,” according to a Jan. 29 blogpost on DeseretNews.com written by Lisa Riley Roche.

Steed told the Deseret News, when reporter Geoff Liesik accompanied her on a ride-along, that the secret to her success was, “It’s a lot of hard work, but you make a ton of stops, and you’re going to run into [DUIs].”

Steed is also the brightest star in the UHP’s firmament. Since March 2009, the seven-year UHP veteran has been a member of the DUI squad, a group of 12 troopers who, according to Capt. Mike Rapich, “identify and interdict impaired drivers.” Rather than only patrolling the highways, as you might expect, UHP also has the legal jurisdiction to remove impaired drivers from the streets, often focusing on bars, convenience stores and other “hot spots.” “You go fishing where the fishes are,” says Winward.

"If you have followed my advice ... the police officer will only have an odor of alcohol and nothing else to convict you."

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Troopers lurk in the shadows Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and watch for a minor traffic violation—such as not indicating before changing lanes or not stopping before a sidewalk while exiting a parking lot—to stop drivers and check for signs of intoxication.Steed, Rapich proudly says, is “unbelievably effective and efficient” at removing impaired drivers from Utah’s streets and represents “the best of the best.”

But when Callis Sturgill heard that Utah legislators had honored Steed, he all but wept in bitterness. “She’s a dishonest cop,” he says. Five years after Steed arrested him for a DUI, Sturgill says her “baseless” arrest has left him in financial ruin.

Rose Park resident Rick Jackson is also angry at Steed, who arrested him during what customers say was nearly a yearlong UHP stakeout of a Rose Park convenience store particularly popular with Hispanics. Rapich says “staked-out” is incorrect, preferring the phrase “pay a lot of attention to.”

Salt Lake City Justice Court Judge L.G. “Buz” Cutler, however, found the fruits of that attention, at least as far as Steed’s arrest of Jackson was concerned, to be highly questionable. In the end, Cutler threw out the charge and stopped just short of calling the state’s star trooper a liar. “He handed her her hat,” Jackson recalls. Cutler is not the only one who has found Steed’s evidence problematic: Third District Court Judge Robert Faust wrote in a ruling that her failure to follow UHP policies was “especially troubling."

To be ensnared in a first DUI, whether drunk or not, is to find yourself in quicksand. For some, the experience of getting pulled over and tested for sobriety is enough to overwhelm them. But, if it’s Steed who’s pulled you over, some defense attorneys and drivers argue her unshakable zeal for her job routinely leads her to violate not only internal UHP policy but potentially also the U.S. Constitution. Sturgill says in his case, his innocence did not prevent her from turning his life into a shambles.

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