Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Utah Trooper faces lawsuit for making bogus DUI arrests

In case you don't follow my other blog dealing with National DUI news and Information, I want to post my thoughts here on Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Steed and some issues that are occurring back in the great State of Utah.  

If you don't know I'm originally from Salt Lake City, Utah (Go Utes!).  So I follow news from Utah pretty regularly.  As I noted above, I have posted updates about Trooper Steed on my other DUI blog, but want to discuss it here today.

In case you don't know Trooper Steed is a Trooper with the Utah Highway Patrol.  During her 10 years with that Department she built the reputation as the best DUI cop in Utah.  As of today she is out of work and facing a lawsuit.  So what happened to her?  Someone who was seen as a rising star in the law enforcement.  Someone who her supervisors described as having an "uncanny ability to detect drunk drivers."  Someone who in 2009 as a member of the DUI squad shattered the record for most DUI arrests in Utah, more than double the number made by another other Utah Highway Patrol member in the history of the department.  

One word: Accountability, or I guess the lack thereof.  Lets be honest being a police officer has to be one heck of job.  Long hours.  In some cases low pay.  The general public has a certain disdain or distrust for you.  Defense Attorneys are always criticizing and challenging your work.  If you mess up it's on the front page of the news.  I know several officers here in Seattle, and although I'm a Defense Attorney I certainly can respect the work they do.  It seems to me to be like a thankless job for the most part.  

But I think the reason law enforcement has such a bad rap is because of what the general public views as a lack of accountability.  Think about it.  If a cop pulls someone over, makes an arrest, documents certain statements or observations of the suspect.  Who is to say this really happened?  I know cops sign an arrest report under penalty of perjury, and blah blah blah.  But many law enforcement agencies still do not have audio or video capabilities.  Even if the agency does have that capability, not all the officers use it.  Or the cameras are out of position.  Or the mic is not working, or in some cases left off.  Or some other excuse is made.

I can't tell you how many times I have represented someone who adamantly denies something the arresting officer is saying happened.  And how do you challenge that?  You can question the officer.  But if they made something up, or fabricated something, or even embellished it a little they are for the most part not going to deviate from that.  You can have the client testify, but in the end who is a Judge, or Jury going to find more reliable most times.  The cop.  So it is always a difficult position to address when it is one persons word against another.  And the other person happens to be a cop.

But every now and then a cop is caught in a lie, or an inconsistency and everything changes.  Such is the case with Trooper Steed.  As I wrote above she was a rising star with the DUI squad in the Utah Highway Patrol.  Shattering records for arrests, winning awards, etc.  But in the end what derailed her career is the lack of accountability that exists with such officers.  And probably her greed to become known as the Best DUI cop in Utah.  

And it all started with a routine motion to suppress evidence where she admitted on the stand that she left her mic off while on a DUI arrest.  To her credit she admitted to this.  I have had cases in the past where certain officers will swear up and down the mic was malfunctioning or the video was lost in magic land.  I never ceases to amaze me the elaborate tails these cops will weave just to avoid answering a simple question.  But when Steed did this her credibility instantly came under question.

You see there was a long standing rumor in Utah that Steed was fabricating observations she made on her DUI arrests.  Ridiculous things like flat out saying a person was impaired when a breath or blood test would show .000.  Making a DUI arrest when there was absolutely no evidence, and then just flat out making things up in the arrest report.  And nobody was ever the wiser, because there was no way to document what really happened, when it was just her word against the suspect.  

However like all things eventually the truth comes out and many of her DUI arrests were flat out dismissed or not filed due to her penchant for "stretching the truth."  In fact in 2010 a Prosecutor flat out told every Defense Attorney in Utah, and every news outlet that he would not prosecutor any cases where Steed was the primary officer, and the only evidence that existed were her observations.  But think about all the people she falsely arrested prior to this slip up in 2010.  

I can't fathom going through that.  Having the stigma of a DUI driver.  Hiring an attorney.  Going to court endless and stating your innocence and not having the Prosecutor, the Judge, or the very law enforcement agency who is supposed to protect you, believe your story.  That is why I do what I do.  So I can help people in these situations.  Thankfully to those attorneys in Utah, her truth stretching was uncovered and justice is being done.    

In case your interested here is the Steed article.  Read up.  

Matthew A. Leyba is a DUI Lawyer in Seattle, WA.  His practice focuses on representing those accused of DUI and other alcohol related offenses.         

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