OGDEN -- A new grass-roots organization plans to support Matthew Stewart and advocate for an end to the violent system they say he and the police are victims of.
The first meeting of the group, called "Keep the Peace," was held inside a room of the Weber County Main Library at Jefferson Avenue and 24th Street on Thursday evening.
According to the group, the criminal justice system created a violent war on drugs that has to stop in favor of a more peaceful alternative, such as addressing drugs as a medical and social problem instead.
On Jan. 4, police raided Stewart's home with a warrant on the suspicion that he was growing marijuana.
The search erupted with gunfire, killing Officer Jared Francom and wounding five other officers.
Stewart was also shot, and he now faces the death penalty if convicted of aggravated murder in Francom's death.
"Could there have been a better way? There has to be a better way," Stewart's father, Michael Stewart, said to a round of applause from the roughly 40 people in the room.
Keep the Peace aims to support Stewart, challenge attorneys like Weber County Attorney Dee Smith as examples of the system that allows for violent drug policies, and advocate for the Ogden City Council to pull the city out of the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force.
The group would like to see funding for the strike force end, and that money be directed to more peaceful programs.
It is Smith's role to review police-involved shootings, and the system has turned a blind eye to the violence, said Jesse Fruhwirth, who spoke for the group at the meeting.
While it's important to hold individuals accountable, the focus is on the system that trains and condones violent behavior, Fruhwirth added.
Andrew McCullough, an attorney and libertarian candidate for Utah Attorney General, is challenging Smith, who is also vying for the job as a Democrat.
McCullough said he knows he won't win, but he wants to have a voice in the debate. He does not think the U.S. is winning the war on drugs, either, and instead fears an overly powerful government that takes on wars that won't end.
He said he understands cracking down on dangerous drugs, such as methamphetamine, but sees the war on drugs as an excuse to harass people.
"Do you feel any safer?" he asked. "Six officers with vests to pick up a couple of plants that someone is growing? Is it worth anyone's life?"
David Goodridge, a former narcotics officer for the Los Angeles Police Department and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, echoed the same sentiments.
He said he kicked in about 50 doors, held a gun against peoples' heads and overturned their homes looking for drugs in what he described as a violent world that "becomes a war on the people." But he said the busts were not helping, instead creating voids for someone else to step in and fill.
"Matthew got caught up in this," he said. "It was a terrible thing for Francom and Matthew."
Goodridge said he wants to save fellow officers' lives by getting them out of "this racket."
Michael Stewart thanked everyone who came to the meeting and mentioned that the family is still taking donations for his son's legal defense.
Neighbors who showed up at the meeting spoke well of Matthew Stewart as a man who was not aggressive. Had the police shown up an hour later, they would have caught Stewart in his driveway waiting to be picked up to go to work at Walmart, said one neighbor.
Fruhwirth questioned why the police could not have arrested Stewart while he was at work and searched his home when he was not there, instead of the paramilitary approach used that night.
Michael Stewart said. "We want to stop the violence. We want to stop funding the violence."
He later said a police officer once told him that if he does not like the law, he should change it.
"And that's what we're going to do," he said.