OGDEN — The search warrant that brought police to the door of Matthew David Stewart’s home only to end up in a shootout will likely gain more scrutiny as Stewart’s prosecution proceeds.
The Jan. 4 gunfire left one officer dead and wounded five other officers, as well as Stewart.
Stewart faces the death penalty if convicted in the fatal shooting of Officer Jared Francom, plus seven counts of attempted aggravated murder for shooting at seven other officers, hitting five.
He’s also charged with production of a controlled substance, the warrant leading to the discovery of 16 marijuana plants in his basement.
Stewart’s defense team may highlight the warrant at trial more than it did at the three-day preliminary hearing that began Oct. 31 in 2nd District Court.
Randy Richards, Stewart’s lead counsel, said jurors may be shocked by how little information is needed for police to get a search warrant to forcibly enter a home.
“I’m always surprised,” he said.
But Chief Deputy Weber County Attorney Gary Heward said simply, “It has no bearing on whether the defendant had intended to shoot and kill those police officers.”
The warrant for Stewart’s house was based on several factors, beginning with Stewart’s ex-girlfriend calling the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force tip line to say he had been growing a large quantity of marijuana in his basement for years, according to testimony.
Strike force agents then made three trips to Stewart’s home for knock-and-talks in which they visit without a warrant. Agents use such visits to question suspects in a casual setting, with an eye toward any evidence that may be in plain sight.
Stewart was not home during the three visits, but the officers noticed through windows that allowed a view of the basement such household items as humidifiers, fans, grow lights, water jugs and other items “consistent with their training” as usable for growing marijuana indoors, according to testimony.
Richards concedes the evidence was sufficient to meet the probable cause standard a judge needs to sign a search warrant. But laymen on a jury may be startled that it’s enough for a warrant that allows police to force entry into a residence, he said.
“It’s certainly something that would catch their attention.”
All search warrants are the knock-and-announce type served on the Stewart home, meaning entry can be forced — a door kicked in — after officers knock while announcing, “Police. Search warrant,” officials explained. The subject of the warrant is not required to be present.
The only other type of search warrant is the “no-knock” variety, officials said.
For these warrants, officers have to convince a judge they need the element of surprise and must be able to force entry unannounced because of the possibility of the destruction of evidence or because of officer safety issues.
However, Richards said, officers have wide discretion in how they use search warrants.
Officers will sometimes find the suspect elsewhere, such as the workplace, he said.
“They’ll say, ‘I have a search warrant. If you come with me and let me in, I won’t have to kick your door in,’ ” Richards said.
Officers can also make good use of the threat of a warrant, he said.
“They’ll say, ‘Let me search your house, and if I find drugs, I’ll just give you a summons. If I have to go get a warrant, we’ll tear the house apart and you’ll probably lose your kids to the Division of Child and Family Services.’ I’ve had dozens of clients tell me it went that way. That’s a legitimate police technique.”
It can seem unfair, Richards said, when the officers find too much drugs to allow a simple summons and end up taking the suspect to jail.