DUI case » The driver wants $250,000 and his conviction overturned.
By Michael McFall
| The Salt Lake Tribune
Ogden • When Clifford Ray switched lanes to get out of the way of a vehicle that he said was tailgating him, he thought the driver behind him was drunk.
Instead, it was Utah Highway Patrol Cpl. Lisa Steed who pulled Ray over and accused him of driving under the influence, he claims. Then she ran him through a series of field sobriety tests that Ray says he passed, but that Steed noted in her report that he didn’t.
Ray was eventually convicted of driving under the influence of drugs. Last week, Ray’s attorney took the first step toward a lawsuit. Ray is seeking $250,000 and wants his conviction overturned.
"She thinks she’s better than anybody," Ray said of Steed. "What does she want? A medal?"
Dwayne Baird, spokesman for the Utah Department of Public Safety, declined to comment on pending litigation.
There could be more claims like Ray’s. UHP removed Steed from field duty earlier this year after one state judge in Salt Lake County and one in Davis County found Steed had been untruthful on the witness stand during DUI and drug possession cases.
Then last month, The Salt Lake Tribune reported on a 2010 memo in which Steed’s then-supervisor Sgt. Rob Nixon — also named in the claim — referred to "a pattern" of conflicting information between Steed’s arrest reports and the laboratory results. In seven of 20 cases Nixon said he reviewed, toxicology tests showed drivers who Steed arrested for DUI had only the remnants of drugs or pharmaceuticals in their bloodstream, not necessarily the illegal kind, and four other drivers had no drugs in their systems.
Michael Studebaker, Ray’s attorney, is perplexed the state would keep her as an employee.
"The state of Utah, or Trooper Steed and her bosses, should accept responsibility for the violation that occurred here and be willing to resolve this case and be done with it," Studebaker said.
On March 8, 2010, Ray was driving his intoxicated brother home, traveling north on Interstate 15 in Davis County, when Steed pulled him over. Steed administered two Breathalyzer tests, but Ray said she did not show him the results. She then grabbed his arm while Ray sat in the backseat of her patrol car to draw blood, without another trooper present.
Ray protested, saying he wanted the draw conducted at the station where he would feel more comfortable.
"But she didn’t," Ray said in an interview Tuesday in Ogden. "She grabbed my arm, slammed me, and that was it. I wasn’t very happy about it. I was scared."
Steed arrested Ray and his vehicle was impounded. As they drove away, Ray saw his brother walking on the side of the freeway.
"I said, ‘You’re really going to let my brother walk on the freeway?’ She said, ‘Yup, it’s not my problem,’ " Ray said.
Faced with a police report saying he showed signs of impairment, Ray elected to plead guilty four months after his arrest.
"So what do you do as a defense attorney?" asked Studebaker, who did not represent Ray in the DUI case. "You’re getting this story. You got an allegedly trained law enforcement officer who is writing up these reports. You’re assuming that they’re going to be correct."
Ray was sentenced to a year of probation, 48 hours of community service and ordered to pay a $1,355 fine, a court docket shows.
It was after his guilty plea that Ray learned about problems with Steed. The document he sent UHP last week is called a notice of claim. It is a required step before suing a government agency in Utah. The state has 60 days to respond to the notice of claim.
Ray wants his conviction overturned and is seeking no less than $250,000 in relief for the emotional distress he endured and the money he lost after the DUI charge.
In 2007, Steed was named the UHP Trooper of the Year. She remains employed by UHP, though her attorney has said she has been working out of uniform and without a gun.
In a press conference last month, UHP Maj. Mike Rapich said he wasn’t aware of any cases in which defendants were wrongfully arrested or convicted because of Steed. He said the issues raised in Nixon’s memo were addressed with Steed, though Rapich declined to say how.