Stewart door-kick debate getting dirty

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 12:07 PM

Tim Gurrister

OGDEN — Prosecutors are angrily and profanely debunking recent statements by defense attorneys for the late Matthew David Stewart.

Earlier this week, deploring what they see as the insanity of door-kick search warrants for pot plants, Stewart’s lawyers went public with their planned defense: that Stewart had no idea the officers breaking down his door to serve a search warrant were police.

Stewart was facing trial in April in the Jan. 4, 2012, shootout that left Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force agent Jared Francom dead and five officers injured, as well as Stewart.

The case is over now, and both sides can comment on the evidence, because a despondent Stewart apparently hanged himself in his cell May 24. A state Department of Public Safety unit is investigating.

“Like many of the citizens in the community, we express sadness and sympathy for Matthew’s family as well as the family of Officer Francom,” Stewart’s lead defense counsel Randy Richards said in a prepared statement issued this week.

“There remain, however, several unanswered questions that have the potential to continue to impact the citizens of Weber County.

“It is this concern that prompts the release of the following information that will hopefully spur an examination and adoption of changes that will safeguard the citizens and the police from another similar tragedy.”

Richards said the officers were dressed like “thugs” in T-shirts and hoodies with nothing to indicate they were police, although later he said there was police insignia, but it was too small to see.

One officer ironically had on a Cheech & Chong T-shirt, he said.

Cheech & Chong are a comedic duo known in the 1970s and ’80s for their love of smoking marijuana.

Prosecutors have stood firm in supporting the need for police “breaches” of suspects’ doors with search warrants even for minor offenses, such as the one at Stewart’s home.

What the defense says is a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, the prosecution says is specifically authorized by the Fourth Amendment.

And the Weber County Attorney’s Office responded to Richards’ comments by saying the officers wore light armor vests and raid jackets clearly marked “police.” In interviews, prosecutors used one-word expletives to describe Richards’ depictions of the evidence.

They released evidence photos from the investigation. One image showed the bloodied jacket worn by Agent Shawn Grogan, the first officer shot. His blood partially obscures the word police across the front. He was shot in the face by Stewart from as close as 3 feet away, according to the charges.

Prosecutors said Stewart’s defense team knew or should have known the officers had taken off their vests and jackets in the photos he released.

“What they describe is misrepresentation of the evidence by counsel,” said County Attorney Dee Smith. “We invite any and all media to visit our office and go over every piece of evidence.”

Smith and Deputy Weber County Attorney Chris Shaw also used words describing Richards’ media campaign as the barnyard leavings of farm animals, especially his contention as to whether there was any “friendly fire” injury to the officers.

All officers who arrived on scene that night, more than 50, had standard issue .40-caliber Glock handguns, the favored sidearm of Weber police departments, they said.

The six officers were hit 17 times out of 31 shots fired by Stewart, according to medical testimony that said all were hit by 9 mm bullets from Stewart’s Beretta PX4 Storm model semiautomatic handgun.

“All Stewart’s rounds are accounted for,” said Chief Deputy Weber County Attorney Gary Heward. “All the officers were hit by Stewart’s 9 mm rounds.”

But Richards asserted that 15 of Stewart’s 9 mm rounds hit nothing, leaving 16 to hit the officers, not 17. He would have argued at trial that at least one round of friendly fire hit an officer.

Richards and his co-counsel Bernie Allen also said police fired 200 or more rounds, possibly as many as 250.

The ballistic claims brought another round of expletives from the prosecutors.

Crime scene investigators from the sheriff’s office counted 52 of the .40-caliber police rounds inside Stewart’s home, and 46 outside on the grounds, they said.

Another six rounds from an officer’s .223-caliber rifle were also located on the grounds for a total of 104 police shots fired.

But Richards said the ballistics tests on the officers’ bullets and casings have not been completed by the state Crime Lab. The examinations of Stewart’s ballistics was completed in time for his three-day preliminary hearing last fall.

“So apparently that’s not going to be resolved,” Richards said. “There are a lot of questions. I would have loved to try the case.”

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