Members of a Utah-based civil liberties group hope to make their presence known at an Ogden city council meeting Tuesday to highlight what they see as systematic problems with police procedures in Weber County.
Patrick Powers, president of the Salt Lake City-based Utah Liberty Institute, hopes the latest misstep, in which armed Ogden police officers with a "knock-and-announce" search warrant entered the house of a man they wrongly believed was a wanted fugitive, could be a tipping point for the city council to consider changing when and how police enforce warrants.
Eric Hill, the victim of that warrant incident, told The Salt Lake Tribune in December that he was placed in handcuffs and that police pointed a gun at his wife's face before they realized they had acted on bad information.
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said Monday that he has directed Assistant Police Chief Eric Young to investigate the Hill incident and decide if any action needs to be taken. Caldwell said he could consider changing police policy."There's always that possibility, depending on what information we get," from the investigation, he said.
Powers said he wants Ogden to do away with "no-knock" warrants, which allow officers to come inside a house without knocking if they have a warrant to search the property. He also hopes to change the hours when police are able to serve warrants, arguing that middle-of-the-night warrant execution has led to preventable errors, sometimes with lethal consequences.
Besides the Eric Hill incident, Powers pointed to others involving Weber County law enforcement agencies that he believes were exacerbated by late-night searches. In September 2010, Todd Blair was shot by police in Roy while they executed a "no knock" warrant on a home. Blair, in a video released by police after the incident, is shown emerging from a bedroom with a golf club in his hand after officers entered the house. The video shows him being shot three times. The Weber County District Attorney's Office subsequently cleared the officers of any wrongdoing in Blair's death.
A shootout in January 2012 that resulted in the death of Ogden Police Officer Jared Francom erupted after police executed a night-time "knock-and-announce" warrant on Matthew David Stewart. Stewart, who is awaiting trial for Francom's murder, has said through his defense attorneys that he fired at the officers because he thought they were intruders.
Eric Hill also said in the December interview that he wasn't sure if the people knocking on his door in the middle of the night were police or intruders acting like police. Such uncertainties can prove fatal, Powers said, but could be prevented if police avoid serving warrants in the middle of the night.
"They honestly don't have the confidence to be able to protect their home against potential intruders," Powers said of Ogden residents.
Caldwell said his office is only looking at the Eric Hill incident because it involved the Ogden Police Department, which his office oversees. The Matthew David Stewart and Todd Blair cases occurred under the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force.
Powers said he's aware the jurisdictions are different, but the agencies involved used the same kind of warrant procedures the Utah Liberty Institute would like to stop. All three incidents are "very good examples of what we don't want to see anymore," Powers said.
"There's just no reason we should continue to see this," Powers said.
Activists in Ogden
The Salt Lake City-based Utah Liberty Institute plans to lobby the Ogden City Council on Tuesday to change how and when search warrants are executed. The council meets at 6 p.m. at the Ogden Municipal Building, 2549 Washington Blvd., Suite 340.