Major Michael Rapich, stands pleasantly and orderly at attention as 11 journalists buzz around him, perching lights nearby, clicking on cameras and phoning their stations with the latest information.
|Major Mike Rapich (Courtesy: Salt Lake Tribune)|
In about 3 minutes, Major Rapich will be peppered relentlessly, aggressively, and in some cases, angrily with questions about one of his own. His department's integrity will be questioned, the word "cover-up," will surface, and his management style will be harangued, but for now, it's time for light pleasantries.
"How are you?" I chirp as I clip a microphone to his thin brown tie," "I'm good!" he beams, "good to see you again," he retorts happily as the army of camera's form a claustrophobic half circle around him.
"Ok, are we ready?" the public relations officer for UHP, bobs his head into the scrum of reporters, checks each nodding head, "then we can start," he blurts as he dodges his body out of the way like a referee after he yanks, scratches and pulls two boxers out of a sweaty, tired, brutal hug.
"Why hasn't Trooper Steed been fired given her checkered past?" I bolt out the first question. Rapich will spent the next 20 minutes on his heels, as he searches for the right words, without saying too much. Reporters will rat-tat-tat questions at him like machine gun fire, and the career trooper will field them all, but vaguely answer but a few.
Rapich is from central casting. The kind of man, the UHP might print on a recruiting poster. He is slender and tall, his wide brimmed campaign hat (think Royal Canadian Mounties) is precisely perched upon his distinguished head of grey hair. Rapich appears to be a man who joined the UHP, not with the intent of scribbling tickets, on a dark and desolate rural Utah highway in the freezing drizzle, but rather to lead those ticket writers. He is charming, confident and poised, and you can imagine him at the Trooper's Ball, in his dress blues, shaking hands with the governor, and chit-chatting with ease with the top brass of the Department of Public Safety. Although he is polished, his hardscrabble roots emerge occasionally in his vernacular "I seen that," he will pronounce periodically. He appears to be one part lawman, two parts politician, and at this press conference he is 100 percent of the latter, in the first 7 minutes of the press availability, Rapich will repeat, "I can't comment on that," 9 times.
"Are you asking me if I want to be standing here answering these questions, the answer is "No." he says with firm conviction, unfortunately it has come to this. He is forced to face the horde, because one of his troopers just can't stay out of trouble
Trooper Lisa Steed's was once the pride of the Utah Highway Patrol. in 2007 she is named "Trooper of the year," after making more than 200 arrests in a single year, that is a national record. A record that the UHP's longest serving trooper says, is impossible unless you're doing something wrong. Martin Luther Turner is just the latest in a ever expanding laundry list of critics.
Here is the Cliff Notes on her notorious career in no particular order:
1) Judges call her "not credible,"
2) Salt Lake District Attorney investigates her.
3) She admits to lying on the stand.
4) Shoots a man with a Tazer as he sits in his car.
5) Davis County DA refuses to prosecute her cases.
6) arrest a man on a bike for DUI for taking his Epilepsy medication.
7) In Memo boss says 11 of the 20 people she arrest for DUI during one period of time are actually sober.
8) Same officer says, she pulls over a driver and claims his pupils are dilated, and he is moving uncontrollably, a sign of impairment, her boss who accompanies her during the arrest says neither assessment is true.
The major's head swivels from one reporter to the next as he is verbally accosted from the left, then center then right, then back to the left.
As the flood of questions begin to slow to a trickle, Rapich scans his adversaries awaiting another assault, I approach him, un-clip the mic from his tie, shake his hand, "so good to see you again I grin, "you too!" he squeezes my palm firmly and smiles. As my photographer Nick slings the tri-pod over his shoulder and I shove my notepad in my back pocket, I hear Rapich exchange some jaunty patter with my colleagues "that was a good question!" he says to one with awe, as he plucks his hat off his head, and retreats. The match is over, both sides return to their corners.