Courts • "I screwed up," says fired trooper asking for 2nd shot; UHP says she showed a "pattern of deception and dishonesty."
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Who is the real Lisa Steed?
Was she a "rising star" in the Utah Highway Patrol who suddenly "crashed and burned," her credibility in such shambles that she could never be trusted to testify truthfully?
Or was she a dedicated, conscientious trooper who simply made a few bad decisions and could still serve with distinction if given a second chance?
On Monday and Tuesday, two starkly different portraits of the embattled former UHP trooper emerged during an administrative hearing at the state Capitol to determine if Steed should be reinstated. On the one side of the room was UHP represented by Assistant Attorney General Yvette Donosso fighting for her continued termination. Facing them was Steed and her attorney, Greg Skordas. Administrative law Judge Katherine Fox will ultimately decide which portrait of Steed is more accurate and if UHP correctly terminated her employment last year.
Her ruling isn't expected until July.
Steed, a former Trooper of the Year, had thousands of DUI arrests under her belt before a 3rd District judge last year determined her testimony wasn't credible in one case.
"This has never happened before at UHP," Donosso said. "Never before in the history of UHP has [a] judge used the words 'untruthful.' "
Less than 48 hours later, a second judge, this time in 2nd District Court, found credibility issues in another case involving Steed, Donosso said.
At that time, Steed had two prior reprimands on her record one for purposely turning off her microphone during a DUI traffic stop involving a Murray police officer's wife so that Steed's supervisor wouldn't know she had violated policy.
The second reprimand came when Steed allegedly disobeyed orders by performing a blood draw on the side of the roadway.
She had no other disciplinary issues until the first judge's ruling. In all, four judges noted concerns with Steed.
On Tuesday, Steed spoke publicly for the first time about why she deserves to remain in the UHP ranks. She admitted to making some mistakes, but said she is ready to take responsibility for them.
Steed acknowledged turning off her microphone to cover up the violation of department policy for performing the steps to test sobriety of the officer's wife out of order. And she said it was common practice until just before she was reprimanded to draw blood on the side of the road and collect suspects' urine samples in convenience store bathrooms.
She said she's received about 20 subpoenas since UHP fired her and can still be counted on to testify.
"I know I have the dings against me," she said. "I know I'm going to be asked about them in court. I screwed up, I deserve it."
Steed said she's always wanted to be a cop and said she deserves another chance, even if it's in a position in which she would rarely have to testify.
"It's all I've done," she said. "I loved my job."
But Donosso and UHP officials portrayed Steed as cop who cut corners when it suited her and who exhibited a "pattern of deception and dishonesty."
A criminal investigation was launched into possible perjury, but the Utah County attorney's office, asked to investigate, recommended no charges, Skordas said.
An Internal Affairs investigation also was completed, but those findings were sealed and portions of the hearing discussing them were closed to the public by the agreement of both parties.
On Tuesday, a stream of witnesses including several current UHP troopers, current and former Department of Public Safety employees, and prosecutors testified on Steed's behalf.
"She's the best trooper I've ever known in 17 years," said Trooper Kim Farnsworth, who was Steed's supervisor for a time and also is Steed's roommate.
Those speaking on Steed's behalf used words like hard worker, proactive, professional and "excellent witness," and said they have no doubts as to her honesty and credibility. Even Department of Public Safety Commissioner Lance Davenport, who recommended Steed's termination, described her as motivated and hardworking.
"Lisa had an excellent work record," he said. "We recognize that right up to the point where we start having these issues."
But, he said, Steed's history of taking shortcuts and policy violations and her efforts to conceal those policy violations from supervisors were "serious in nature" and firing her was the right thing to do.
Donosso said when the issues arose, their serious nature negated all the good Steed had done previously as her credibility was damaged.
But Farnsworth believes Steed should not have been fired, alleging that another trooper who Farnsworth once supervised was deceptive on several occasions, including plagiarizing someone else's work. She said a lieutenant recommended termination in that case, but the man ultimately wasn't fired.
Davis County District Attorney Troy Rawlings said the issues ensuing from two judges' opinions regarding Steed's credibility have resulted in dismissal of seven pending cases and two post-conviction relief petitions being granted. He said eight more post-conviction petitions are pending.
Rawlings said he won't "allow this circus to take place in front of a jury" and that his office will not take any Steed cases to trial unless there is independent evidence video, audio or other witnesses to corroborate her testimony.
"She'd get killed on cross examination," he testified, noting there would be an added layer of litigation in any case in which she's involved. "If we could use her as a potted plant, we'd file cases."
Skordas said Steed could continue to testify in court, even if her disciplinary history has to be disclosed to defense attorneys.
He said she's made more than 1,000 DUI arrests since being hired by UHP in 2002. Very few of those cases have been dismissed, he said.
He also noted the numerous accolades Steed received in the course of her decadelong career, including being named the first female Trooper of the Year in Utah.