OGDEN -- Police Chief Mike Ashment has apologized for six armed officers serving a warrant on the wrong house and traumatizing two young girls who still won't sleep in their own beds.
But the chief is not ready to concede five of the officers carried assault rifles and shotguns in the 2 a.m. entry Dec. 20 at the home of Eric and Melanie Hill.
A departmental investigation is ongoing in the serving of a warrant on the Hills for a military man charged with desertion, Ashment said Monday, and could be finished within a week. Derek Billmire was arrested later the same morning at a Harrisville residence on the desertion warrant, he said.
The Hills have been meeting with media regularly since the story broke over the weekend.
They counted two shotguns and three assault rifles among the officers who crowded into their modest home in the 1000 block of Harrop Street.
"They were huge rifles, huge," said Melanie Hill. They described the long guns as equipped with LED lights and carried by men dressed all in black, one wearing a helmet.
"They kept yelling at me that I was Derek," said Eric Hill.
His daughters, ages 4 and 10, had just awakened him in his bed to say someone was pounding on the front door. He left them and wife Melanie there while he went to answer the door with the baseball bat he keeps by his bed.
By his account, the pounding was very loud as he peered through the kitchen window blinds, seeing nothing, before approaching the door asking who was there. A voice said Ogden police.
He opened the door and someone said drop the bat, which he did, he said, seeing the array of gun barrels. He was then immediately taken out of the house and handcuffed, three of the officers staying with him while the other three went in.
Then he was brought inside, one of the officers keeping a gun on him while he was placed on his living room couch, handcuffed in his pajamas. The others peppered him with questions as to who else was in the house and did he have guns.
"I was downstars cuddling with my kids crying," Melanie said. Hearing the shouting officers, she went to the bottom of the stairs and found one of them approaching, demanding she bring her husband's ID upstairs.
Which she did, and the officers relented. "Then they started shuffling out," Eric said. The ordeal lasted about 20 minutes, he said.
"I can certainly understand him being alarmed," Ashment said. "I'm not saying he did anything wrong ... It's unfortunate that Mr. Hill and his family had to endure this."
Ashment stressed that his officers had no intention of kicking Hill's door in, which is legally allowed for a search warrant. But the officers had an arrest warrant they had received an hour earlier from Weber Consolidated Dispatch, he said.
"They had no intention of forcing their way in," the chief said. "It wasn't a search warrant. It was an arrest warrant for desertion."
Preliminary reports say only one officer had anything resembling a rifle, he said, declining to comment any further on the investigation under way by one of his lieutenants.
He declined to speculate on any potential discipline of the officers.
"The prudent thing to do is let the investigation take its course," he said.
The Hills said the officers made no apologies as they left, nor any acknowledgement of their crying children.
But Ashment said, "When they found out he wasn't the person they were looking for, according to the officers, they apologized and offered handshakes."
The Hills recall the apparent officer in charge making reference to the deer rifle and shotgun Eric owns, and which were in the house. Hill said he didn't want to frighten his wife and daughters further by getting a gun out.
As he left, the senior officer advised him that would have been fatal.
In his parting remarks, Eric remembers him saying, "We would have wasted you."
"I thought he said, 'We would have blown you away,'" said Melanie.
Ashment said he can't imagine "my guys" saying anything like that.
"If our officers do something inappropriate, I want to address it," he said.
The department has no policy or protocol on warrants served on the wrong person, as it's such a rarity.
"Nothing beyond do the right thing, apologize, explain why you were there ... we don't want people afraid of the police," Ashment said.
Ashment has telephoned Eric Hill to apologize and asked him to meet with his lieutenant as part of the investigation. Hill has declined, doubting the department's investigation of itself as useful.
"I understand police officers have a difficult job, I really do," he said. "They don't know who's on the other side of the door. But this is asinine."
He argues that police could have avoided putting everyone in danger with a minimum of research, such as checking the license plate on his vehicles that night, talking to neighbors, or checking county records on the home, which he owns.
Billmire, Hill said, is 6 inches taller than he, from checking his booking mug, and has red hair and a beard.
"This year we've had over 105,000 police incidents as of today, the last day of the year," Ashment said, referring to activity with enough police response to require assigning of an incident number. "When you deal with that many dynamic sets of circumstances, not everything is going to go seamlessly."