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Cops hired hazmat to clean Stewart's blood-spattered home

Published July 12, 2013 3:19 pm

Fatal 2012 shootout • "Our officers' blood was spilled in there," Ogden police chief said.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Police departments usually don't clean up crime scenes.

But the smeared and spatteredblood on the floors and walls of Matthew David Stewart's Ogden home was different: it was blood that belonged to Ogden police officers.

For that reason, Ogden Police Chief Mike Ashment said the department hired a biohazard company to clean Stewart's home once the criminal case was dismissed against the 39-year-old man, who committed suicide at the Weber County jail on May 24.

"Our officers' blood was spilled in there," Ashment said. "We just wanted to make sure it was cleaned up."

A shootout erupted at Stewart's home, located at 3268 Jackson Ave. in Ogden, on Jan. 4, 2012 after agents with the Weber Morgan Narcotics Strike Force served a "knock-and-announce" search warrant at the home seeking evidence of marijuana cultivation. Stewart allegedly opened fire on the officers who entered the home, and Agent Jared Francom, 30, was killed in the shootout. Five other agents, along with Stewart, were also injured.

The strike force is a specialized group of police officers from various agencies who focus on drug crimes. Many of the agents who served the warrant, including Francom, were Ogden officers.

Ashment said the cleaning was done after the criminal case against Stewart was officially closed on June 4, and while the Weber County Attorney's Office still had custody of the home.

But the clean-up was a shock to Stewart's family members.

Erna Stewart, Matthew Stewart's sister-in-law, said her family was expecting to find dried 18-month-old blood throughout the house when they went inside last week to gather some of his possessions. Instead, they found that in addition to a thorough cleaning of biological material, flooring and doors had been removed, and Matthew Stewart's mattress missing.

"To me, it was abnormal," said Erna Stewart, who expressed a growing distrust for law enforcement authorities and prosecutors involved in the case. "It's not right. I know people think we're paranoid or whatever... but we don't trust anything they do. If it was a hazmat clean-up, why not just mop it up?"

Where smeared and spattered blood once covered the kitchen floor, the linoleum has been scraped up and removed. Blood-stained carpet on the stairs near the south door — where Agent Kasey Burrell, Francom and Sgt. Nate Hutchinson had piled up after being shot at — also was removed, according to Erna Stewart.

Erna Stewart said some items were also removed from the home, including the mattress, a bedroom door and a bathroom door.

She said the family was hoping that the blood evidence would still be at the home once they gained access to it in case they wanted a private investigator to look at it, or to use it as possible evidence if they ever decide to file a civil lawsuit.

The house itself is still at the center of a civil suit between Matthew Stewart and his insurance company, Fire Insurance Exchange.

The lawsuit, filed in January, claims that the insurance company breached their contract when they did not pay the entire estimated amount of damage from the shootout.

According to insurance appraisal documents, the insurance company estimated the shootout caused about $8,400 in damage to the home, but about $4,800 of that was not recoverable due to depreciation. The company cut Stewart and his mortgagee a check for the actual cash value of $3,321.29 to cover the damage.

Stewart returned the check to the insurance company because he contended he was entitled to the additional payments.

In a letter, the insurance company wrote that there is no coverage under Stewart's policy for what he is claiming, according to court documents.

Erna Stewart said if their family wins the lawsuit, they are hoping to use the money to fix the Jackson Avenue property, and then try to sell it.

"We don't want it sitting there for the neighbors to have to look at," she said. "We want to take care of the neighbors, leave them with some property value. We don't want to mess that up for them."

Police were tipped off to the hydroponic grow in Stewart's basement by his ex-girlfriend, Stacey Wilson. Case Agent Jason VanderWarf told investigators after the shootout that he could not thoroughly interview the woman because she didn't return his calls. But during one of three unsuccessful attempts to contact Stewart at his home, VanderWarf said he saw a number of items at the house indicative of a marijuana grow, and asked for a "knock-and-annouce" search warrant, which was signed by a 2nd District judge.

The Jan. 4 warrant service was classified as "low-risk," and four of the agents — including Francom — did not wear protective vests when they entered the Ogden home. Agent Shawn Grogan testified at a preliminary hearing that he was met with gunfire while he was clearing the bedroom hallway of the house, emphasizing he did not fire his gun until he was fired upon first.

Stewart, who worked the night shift at Walmart, told investigators after the shooting that he was awakened to loud banging and glass breaking around 8:30 p.m. that night. He felt the men at his home were there to rob and kill him, so he defended himself, he told the investigators. He also told the investigators that he didn't open fire until he was fired upon.

Stewart had pleaded not guilty to a charge of aggravated murder, in the death of Francom, and seven first-degree felony counts of attempted aggravated murder for allegedly trying to kill other officers, as well as one second-degree felony count related to alleged marijuana cultivation. According to court documents, 16 pot plants were found in the home after the raid.

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller