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Review: Matthew Stewart was not mistreated before suicide

Published March 22, 2014 9:43 pm

Jail suicide • Accused of killing a police officer, he hanged himself in May 2013.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Matthew David Stewart was not mistreated by jail staff, prosecutors or a 2nd District Court judge before the man who allegedly killed an Ogden police officer committed suicide in May 2013, a recent independent review concluded.

Chief Deputy Cache County Attorney Donald Linton, who reviewed an investigation of Stewart's hanging death that was conducted by the Utah Department of Public Safety, concluded that Stewart alone was responsible for his death, and that Weber County officials had no culpability.

"Stewart elected to take his own life," Linton wrote. "In doing so, he concealed his decision to take his life from those who could have prevented the suicide."

Linton's report, which was obtained and posted online by the Standard-Examiner on Friday, spans the time from Stewart's January 2012 shootout with the Weber Morgan Strike Force at his Ogden home to his death at the Weber County jail 16 months later.

Stewart was accused of opening fire on Strike Force officers serving a search warrant at his Jackson Avenue home about 8 p.m. on Jan. 4, 2012. Agent Jared Francom, 30, was killed in the shootout, and five other agents were wounded. Stewart also was injured in the shooting.

Stewart, 39, committed suicide on the night of May 23, 2013, while awaiting trial. He had pleaded not guilty to a charge of aggravated murder and seven first-degree felony counts of attempted aggravated murder for allegedly trying to kill other officers, and one second-degree felony count related to alleged marijuana cultivation. Prosecutors were seeking the death penalty.

According to Linton's report, inmates who knew Stewart said he seemed "just fine" before he committed suicide. A jail worker reported that she walked by Stewart's jail cell around 11:55 p.m. on May 23 and saw the man reading a book on his bunk. About an hour later, during another routine walk-through, the deputy saw Stewart "hanging from something," according to the deputy's report.

The deputy said Stewart was hanging from a piece of cloth "beneath the shelf in between the toilet and the end of the bunks." By the time deputies entered the cell, at 12:51 a.m. on May 24, Stewart had no pulse and was cool to the touch.

Linton notes in his report that there were no indications of physical abuse by other jailers or inmates, and there were no indications of mental abuse either. Both jail staff and inmates told investigators Stewart was not acting abnormal or suicidal prior to his death.

"Stewart was outwardly joking with other inmates," Linton wrote. "[He] did not present any indications that he was suicidal, and made no outward pleas for assistance."

Linton did find that inmates noticed Stewart was "saddened or upset" in the days before his death after a judge rejected his defense attorneys' arguments that a police officer lied to obtain the "knock-and-announce" warrant served at his home. But Lindon said there was nothing to support that Stewart was a victim of an unfair ruling by the court.

Stewart's sister-in-law, Erna Stewart, said Friday she was not surprised by the report's conclusion, adding that she felt disappointed with how the investigation was handled.

"[Matthew Stewart] was who he was in their eyes," she told The Salt Lake Tribune. "If you have cops protecting someone already labeled as a cop killer, how do you think he was treated? ... They may not have done anything wrong procedurally, but I just think it's probably how they treat everybody [in the jail]."

Erna Stewart said her family hired their own investigators to look into her brother-in-law's case, but would not disclose whether a lawsuit or similar action is in the family's future.

"I will never relent and I will never quit," she said. "We are not done trying to prove that everything [police and prosecutors] say is not 100 percent correct."

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller