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A judge has agreed to review personnel records of a decorated but controversial Utah Highway Patrol trooper to determine whether the records should be submitted to defense attorneys.
Third District Court Judge Mark Kouris has scheduled a Jan. 17 hearing in which he is expected to announce his decision regarding Trooper Lisa Steed. Defense attorneys for a man Steed arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and drug offenses have filed motions seeking the records.
Lawyers for the defendant, Theron Alexander, have said in court filings that the records could be exculpatory or mitigate Alexander's crimes.
"Indeed, the public has a great interest in having honest law enforcement officers, and a correspondingly great interest in disclosure of evidence that a law enforcement officer is not honest," defense attorneys wrote in a motion last month.
UHP is fighting to keep the records sealed. An attorney representing UHP said there was an expectation of privacy in any investigation into Steed.
"If these records were to be released, it would have a chilling effect on the UHP's ability to perform disciplinary investigations in the future," the UHP attorney wrote in a motion opposing the release.
The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office asked Kouris to review the records in private and determine if they are of value to the defense. The law requires all relevant documents held by prosecutors be disclosed to defendants.
Utah law typically makes public records of discipline taken against a public employee, but records of the investigation itself are typically not public nor are records where the misconduct was not sustained. It's not clear from court filings what records exist for Steed.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill on Thursday said he was trying to balance those competing interests.
"I have an obligation to protect Lisa Steed, but at the same time I have an ethical and legal obligation to turn those documents over," Gill said.
Alexander has pleaded not guilty to six charges against him, two of which are felonies punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Court records indicate Steed arrested him Jan. 2.
In 2007, Steed was the first woman to be UHP Trooper of the Year after she made more than 200 DUI arrests that year. Defense attorneys have called her tactics into question and accused her of making arrests without probable cause and following improper procedure.
In November, UHP agreed to pay $40,000 to a man who says Steed stunned him with a Taser after he asked to speak to an attorney.