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Keep the case open

Published June 6, 2013 5:49 pm

Fatal raid must be investigated
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The case of Matthew David Stewart must not be allowed to die with him.

The 39-year-old Stewart, facing charges of capital murder after a botched police raid on his Ogden home in January 2012, hanged himself in the Weber County Jail last month. He was reportedly despondent over the direction his case was taking in court, specifically a judge's rejection of his attorney's argument that the warrant carried by the heavily armed squad of police that burst into his home was based on false information.

Stewart was being threatened with the death penalty because one of the attacking officers, 30-year-old Jared Francom, was killed in the ensuing firefight, and five other officers were wounded.

All along, people who were not involved in the case have looked on and wondered whether a military-style assault on the home of a man credibly suspected of nothing more than raising a few marijuana plants was justified in any way, shape or form. Militarizing minor drug investigations, it would seem, vastly increases the risk to suspects, police and innocent bystanders. The result of the raid on Stewart's home certainly does nothing to undermine that concern.

Key to Stewart's defense was the argument that the officers conducting the raid had not adequately identified themselves and that the suspect quite reasonably feared he was the target, not of a lawfully warranted search, but of a home invasion carried out by a bunch of thugs. Information about the raid released to the public only after Stewart's death — specifically photos of the drug squad officers clad in jeans, hoodies and, in one case, a Cheech and Chong T-shirt — definitely support the late defendant's claim.

Neighbors and other witnesses, meanwhile, had testified that they heard the shots being fired in and around Stewart's home, but not anything that would indicate that the police, as they have insisted under oath, loudly announced themselves or did anything else that would have encouraged Stewart to peacefully surrender rather than fight for his life.

With no defendant to try, formal charges in the case were officially dropped Tuesday. But this must not be the end of the matter.

The lives of one police officer and, indirectly, one other human being were lost due to the decision of the powers that be in Weber County to conduct a military-style attack on a small-time weed grower. If there is not a full and expert investigation into the decisions that led to the raid and the conduct of law enforcement officers during the attack, then two men will have died in vain.