“With her training and experience, it’s second nature for her to find these people who are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” her DUI squad boss at the time, Lt. Steve Winward, told the Deseret News.
During a ride-along with the newspaper, Steed said it was simply a “numbers game,” noting that one in every 10 drivers stopped for a violation is driving impaired. “It’s a lot of hard work, but you make a ton of stops, and you’re going to run into them,” she said.
Steed’s career, however, turned. In 2012, while on the stand in a DUI court case, Steed acknowledged purposely leaving her microphone in her patrol car so that superiors wouldn’t know she was violating agency policy.
By April 2012, her credibility had come into question so much that a prosecutor said he would no longer prosecute DUIs if Steed’s testimony was the only evidence.
In October, the Salt Lake Tribune obtained a memo written in May 2010 in which Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Rob Nixon flagged Steed’s “pattern” of questionable DUI arrests. He wrote that the bulk of Steed’s arrestees had no signs of “impairing drugs” in their systems.
The memo said she based most of her arrests on signs of impairment such as dilated pupils and leg and body tremors.
Steed was taken off road patrol in April 2012 and fired in November. She was accused of violating department policies, falsifying police reports and using questionable practices when making DUI arrests.
The lawsuit is based on two defendants: Thomas Romero and Julie Tapia.
Romero was stopped after Steed said he was swerving, according to the lawsuit. After Romero said he wasn’t drinking, Steed gave him a roadside sobriety test anyway. She booked him for DUI even though his blood alcohol content was 0.00. Charges were dismissed.
Tapia went to pick up her ex-husband, who had been drinking. Steed approached Tapia as she got out of her car at her house, saying Tapia had been speeding, the lawsuit said. Steed said she could smell alcohol, and Tapia told her it was coming from her ex-husband.
Tapia was arrested for a DUI; her ex-husband for public intoxication. Tapia’s blood test showed no alcohol. Charges were dropped.
Choate, who hopes to join the lawsuit, said the entire agency should be held responsible for the damage Steed caused to him and others. “They let her get away with it for a long time,” he said.