OGDEN — Family and friends of Matthew David Stewart have received yet one more blow in their efforts to fight for his life in the courts.
Stewart is charged with killing one police officer and wounding five others during an Ogden drug raid last month, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
His family, which is using the website helpmatthewstewart.org to gain support for Stewart’s defense, has been asked to stop raising money for the effort.
“We’ve suspended the solicitation because we received a letter from the State of Utah asking us to stop,” said Michael Stewart, Matthew’s father. The letter from the Utah Division of Consumer Protection was received Thursday.
The father said the fundraising portion of the family’s website devoted to his son’s legal defense has been removed until the family can get a required permit.
“We don’t want to break the law,” said the father.
Michael Stewart said the family was told that they would need a permit to solicit funds. He said they have filed the paperwork and paid the fees required, and he was told it could take up to 20 days to receive the permit.
But he also wondered if his cause was being treated fairly.
“There have been a lot of fund-raisers for the officers,” he said. “Are they requiring a permit for that too?”
Stewart faces capital murder and other charges following the Jan. 4 raid at his home.
On the website, the family has posted stories outlining a disparity in resources between those fighting for the death penalty for their son and those working for his defense.
One story states that the playing field currently is stacked 65 to four against Stewart as prosecutors have 52 investigating officers as well as 13 other investigators looking for evidence to support them. It states that Stewart is limited to four on his defense team.
The website also complains about a 21-minute video it claims contains about 200 images collected from the Weber County Sheriff’s Office that is being distributed to law-enforcement agencies statewide.
Consumer Protection Division Director Traci Gunderson said the family must register for a permit with the state as a charity under the Charitable Solicitations Act, which is designed to protect the public from fraud.
Michael Stewart said he submitted an application for a permit and a $100 fee Friday.
The law requires a permit before soliciting, requesting, promoting, advertising or sponsoring a contribution for a charitable purpose. Many groups, including religious organizations, schools, political parties and volunteer fire departments, are exempt.
The letter was sent to Stewart’s family after a couple of residents asked if the family was registered with the state, Gunderson said.
“Our standard operation procedure is, when we become aware of solicitations being made, we send out a notice,” Gunderson said, adding some organizations fail to show where funds are going, and a permit will reveal that.
On its website, the family describes the shootout as a “tragic misunderstanding” and had asked for help in raising $70,000 to mount a legal defense.
In addition to capital murder, Matthew Stewart faces a marijuana cultivation charge and seven counts of attempted aggravated murder.
Matthew Stewart, who served in the military and has worked in security, has said he feared for his life the night of the raid because he thought people were breaking into his home to rob and kill him.
He said he never heard the drug strike force members identify themselves or announce they were at his home to serve a search warrant.
Ogden Police Officer Jared Francom was killed in the ensuing shooting, and five other officers were injured, some critically.
The family wants to hire private investigators and expert witnesses to assist two public defenders who have been appointed to handle Matthew Stewart’s case.
Besides their website, the family also has launched a Facebook group, which currently has 329 members, called Supporters of Matthew David Stewart. On the site, supporters have posted concerns about the legality of how the raid on Stewart’s house was conducted, as well as information about when a person is legally allowed to use deadly force to protect his property.