Father to Weber County Commission: Jail failed Stewart, is inhumane

Jun 19 2013 - 4:51pm

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Matthew Stewart hanged himself May 24, officials say.
Michael Stewart, the father of Matthew Stewart
Matthew Stewart hanged himself May 24, officials say.
Michael Stewart, the father of Matthew Stewart

OGDEN -- Matthew David Stewart's father told the Weber County Commission on Tuesday that the jail failed to protect his son and ignored his complaints about conditions, leading to the murder suspect's death by hanging May 24.

Michael Stewart told commissioners he believes that regardless of his son's mistakes, the younger Stewart was the victim of a system that disregards the humanity and rights of the people it is designed to protect.

Michael Stewart appeared at the county commission meeting in the latest episode in his family's protests surrounding the case that began Jan. 4, 2012, with a gun battle that left an Ogden police officer dead and five other police officers wounded.

Matthew Stewart, the subject of a search warrant at his home that night, opened fire on officers. He also was wounded.

"I know there are problems in Weber County Jail, and they hit our family particularly hard," Michael Stewart said.

"My point is that they did not protect my son. He was always filing complaints in jail, and they were not looked into. That's my feeling as a citizen and as a parent."

When he died of apparent suicide, Matthew Stewart was awaiting trial in a murder case that could have resulted in the death penalty.

"I just wanted to let them know that they failed to treat my son like he was innocent until proven guilty," Michael Stewart said. "The way that they treat people is not humane, psychologically and emotionally."

Matthew Stewart's death was the fourth reported suicide in Weber County Jail in the past six months.

American Civil Liberties Union Utah legal director John Mejia said that pattern is worth looking into.

"That would indicate to me that there very well could be problems, because that number seems disturbingly high. It's healthy for police, county and jail officials to evaluate their methods and systems. Getting an honest and neutral review of their practices might be helpful," Mejia said.

Commissioner Terry Gibson said he is not unsympathetic to Stewart's concerns but remains supportive of Weber County's law enforcement.

"I felt sorry for the tragedy in his family. I think it would be awful to lose a son. However, I am convinced that, in this case, they were following law and procedure. We can't take away the risk that people might make bad decisions, and Matthew Stewart made a very bad decision," Gibson said.

County officials said after Stewart's death that proper monitoring of inmates was followed. They also said suicides are a regrettable fact in jails across the country.

The state Department of Public Safety's investigation into Stewart's death is ongoing.

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