Pubdate: Sat, 06 Jul 2013
Source: Salt Lake Tribune (UT)
Copyright: 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune
Author: Jessica Miller


Crime) Police officers were unprepared for what happened Jan. 4, 
2012, investigators say.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and for prosecutors involved in the 
Matthew David Stewart case, one thing became clear after the Jan. 4, 
2012, shootout in Ogden that killed one police officer and injured 
five others: You can never let your guard down.

Weber Morgan Narcotics Strike Force agents who served a 
knock-and-announce warrant at Stewart's Jackson Avenue home on that 
winter evening were not expecting to be met with gunfire, Deputy 
Weber County Attorney Branden Miles said in an interview with The 
Salt Lake Tribune this week.

The warrant service was classified as "low-risk," in part because 
agents believed no one was living in the home where they suspected 
marijuana was being grown, according to agent interviews.

As a result, four of the 10 strike force members who entered the home 
were not wearing bullet-proof vests, Miles said, including 
30-year-old Jared Francom, who was fatally wounded in the shootout.

"Matthew Stewart showed us there are no low-risk search warrants 
anymore," Miles said. "You can't assume theperson[s] on the other 
side of the door are peace-loving potheads."

Though the warrant was classified as low-risk, there were several 
unknowns in the initial investigation into a marijuana grow operation 
in Stewart's basement.

A slide show presented to the agents before the warrant was executed 
- - just one document in a large case file the Weber County Attorney's 
Office turned over to The Salt Lake Tribune as part of an open 
records request - included a "threat alert" chart listing: 
surveillance, dogs, weapons and "other" threats. In each case, the 
status of the threats was marked as "unknown."

Case agent Jason VanderWarf said in his interview with investigators 
that Stewart's ex-girlfriend, Stacey Wilson, had called the Tip-a-Cop 
line, reporting that Stewart was growing marijuana. But VanderWarf 
could never interview Wilson thoroughly, because she would not return 
his phone calls, he told the investigator.

"She kinda fell off the face of the earth," VanderWarf told the investigator.

During one of three unsuccessful attempts to contact Stewart at his 
home, VanderWarf said he saw a number of items that he felt indicated 
that Stewart may be growing marijuana, including humidifiers, bright 
lights and extension cords.

VanderWarf then wrote a search warrant, which was signed by a 2nd 
District Court judge.

Stewart's family and supporters have been critical of the 
investigation, saying it should have been more thorough before the 
knock-and-announce search warrant was served. Miles said there are 
always unknown elements in a case, but he insisted the officers did 
every standard check available to them, such as investigating 
Stewart's minimal criminal history.

"It's hard to say what they could have done to show Matthew Stewart 
was capable of this," Miles said, referring to the fatal gun battle.

When Stewart, 39, committed suicide in the Weber County Jail in May, 
the criminal case abruptly ended. Despite that there was still work 
to do on the case, mostly concerning scientific evidence and the 
completion of ballistic reports, Miles said he was "very" confident 
that Stewart would have been convicted of aggravated murder at his 2014 trial.

"It was all coming together," Miles said. "This case was a very 
strong case. There's no doubt in my mind Matthew Stewart would have 
been convicted."

Though Stewart has always maintained that he thought the men inside 
his home were there to rob him and that he shot at them to defend 
himself, Miles pointed to several instances where he believes Stewart 
must have been aware he was firing on cops.

When Agent Derek Draper made a panicked initial call to dispatch - 
"Weber Whiskey 7, Weber Whiskey 7, we've got shots fired, we've got 
officers hit, I need medical!" - he did so inside of Stewart's 
kitchen, Miles said. He yelled loud enough, Miles believes, that 
Stewart would have heard him inside the small two-bedroom home.

Miles also pointed to footage from a South Ogden police cruiser's 
dashboard camera, which showed the chaotic scene of officers dragging 
injured agents from the house onto Jackson Avenue, which was bathed 
in blue and red police lights. Suddenly, a burst of gunfire erupts 
and the officers, who were lying in front of headlights of an Ogden 
police car, scatter. Miles believes Stewart, who was allegedly 
shooting out the front door of the home, would have clearly seen that 
law enforcement officers were in the area, and likely would have seen 
the officers' police identifiers while they were illuminated by headlights.

Stewart's attorney, Randy Richards, along with members of his family, 
have expressed doubt that Stewart ever shot out the front door, as 
agents testified during Stewart's preliminary hearing. But Miles said 
drops of blood and three .9mm casings found in the area place Stewart 
at the front door.

Stewart fired his 9 mm Beretta 31 times during the gun battle, while 
the officers, carrying .40-caliber Glocks and a .233-caliber rifle, 
fired a total of 104 times, according to Miles. Richards has 
estimated police fired about 250 rounds.

In a May interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Richards questioned 
Stewart's ability to readily understand that the men who had broken 
into his home were police officers. He pointed to photos taken by 
crime scene investigators, which showed several of the uninjured 
officers wearing no police identifiers - one officer was wearing a 
Cheech and Chong shirt.

But Miles said the hospital photos are not an accurate picture of how 
the agents looked inside Stewart's home. He said the agents took off 
their jackets and bullet proof vests - some covered in fellow 
officers' blood - while waiting for updates on the injured. Hospital 
surveillance cameras show the agent in the Cheech and Chong shirt 
entering the hospital wearing a bulletproof vest marked "police."

However, neither of the sergeants who served the warrant with the 
agents at Stewart's home was wearing a protective vest: Sgt. Steve 
Zaccardi was on light-duty and never entered the home, and the straps 
on Sgt. Nate Hutchinson's vest broke just before the warrant was 
served, according to their testimony during the preliminary hearing. 
Agents Shawn Grogan and Francom, also went into the home without 
protective vests, which Miles said was due to a "complacency 
problem," because the group expected to serve the warrant without incident.

"Now, they'll never treat it that way," Miles said of future search 
warrant operations.

Ogden Police Chief Mike Ashment, who could not be reached this week 
for comment, said in January on the first anniversary of the shootout 
that it is now Ogden police policy that all officers must wear 
ballistic vests while on duty.

Stewart had pleaded not guilty to a charge of aggravated murder, in 
the death of Francom, and seven first-degree felony counts of 
attempted aggravated murder for allegedly trying to kill other 
officers, as well as one second-degree felony count related to 
alleged marijuana cultivation. According to court documents, 16 pot 
plants were found in the home after the raid.
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