Ogden » Police Chief Mike Ashment had a difficult task before him: In the aftermath of a shootout in which one of his officers was killed and several others were wounded, he had to identify where the officers went wrong — even though, in his mind, they were heroes.
"Once this thing went sideways, they did everything heroic, and over and above, [they] performed outstanding things," Ashment said of the January 2012 shooting that erupted as Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force agents served a knock-and-announce warrant at an Ogden home.
Shooting report released after open-records request
Ogden’s review of the Jan. 4, 2012, drug raid that resulted in one officer being killed and five others wounded was released to The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this week in response to an open-records request.
The Tribune requested internal police reviews in May 2013, shortly after Matthew David Stewart, who was charged with shooting the officers, committed suicide at the Weber County jail and his criminal case was closed. The police department denied the request, citing privacy issues.
The Tribune appealed the decision to Ogden’s records review board — which also denied the request.
In February of this year, The Tribune filed a lawsuit in 2nd District Court seeking the report.
The release of the report — actually an eight-page summary of the internal reviews— was the result of out-of-court negotiations between the two parties after the lawsuit was filed.
The lawsuit will now be dismissed.
“Ogden and The Tribune worked together to resolve this records dispute in a way that acknowledged the city’s privacy concerns but also enhanced public understanding of this tragic event,” said Michael O’Brien, The Tribune’s attorney. “This approach saved a lot of taxpayer dollars that might otherwise have been consumed in a lawsuit.”
But Ashment acknowledged that the officers made mistakes both before and during the drug raid on Matthew David Stewart’s Jackson Avenue home. He said this week that he believes those mistakes were due to complacency — that the officers who entered Stewart’s home that Jan. 4, 2012, evening thought they would find an empty grow house, not an armed man.
"This is a guy who is considered a low-level marijuana guy," the Ogden chief said. "And we let our guard down. ... We didn’t go there prepared for a gunbattle."
A summary of the police agency’s internal shooting review report, released this week as part of a Salt Lake Tribune open-records request, shows that many policy violations — including that some officers were not wearing bulletproof vests — occurred because they thought no one would be home.
"It appeared that all, if not most, of the agents believed they would find the home vacant," the shooting report reads. "... [which] contributed to complacency in the use of standard equipment, approaching the target home safely, conducting a thorough background investigation of the suspect, and a thorough scout of the target home."
The report said that during two unsuccessful "knock-and-talk" attempts — when agents attempted to knock on Stewart’s door to make contact with him — the same kitchen light was on. Agent Jason VanderWarf said in an interview with investigators after the shooting that they believed the light could have been on a timer, which indicated that no one actually lived there and it was just a "grow house."
Also, a so-called "pre-surveillance" of the home was supposed to have been conducted by a specific officer 30 to 60 minutes before the raid — but was never done. "If this task had been completed, it may have given an indication the suspect was inside the residence," the report says.
Violations » In addition to other errors, the report noted four violations of Ogden police policy and procedure:
» A sergeant on "light-duty status" should not have been at the raid, due to physical limitations. Sgt. Steve Zaccardi testified during Stewart’s preliminary hearing that he had shoulder surgery a month prior and was wearing an arm sling during the raid. He stayed outside the home, he testified, and later left the scene to take an officer to the hospital.
» Five Ogden officers violated policy by failing to carry an extra fully loaded magazine. "Some agents ran dry of ammunition during the gunbattle and had to verbally announce that they were out, which most likely was heard by the suspect," the report says, adding that this also may have caused agents to advance toward gunfire to cover the retreat of other agents who were out of ammo.
» Four Ogden officers violated standard protocol by failing to carry their assigned police radios. This caused confusion, the report said, because information was not relayed efficiently and effectively to responding patrol officers.
» While it was not a "technical violation," several officers — including slain agent Jared Francom — did not wear bulletproof vests when entering the home. The report notes that at that time, the policy read that an officer "should" rather than "shall" wear a bulletproof vest. This policy has since been changed, requiring all field officers and any officer involved in a search warrant to wear body armor.
The report — which did not include names of the officers involved — said discipline for the officers ranged from a formal notice of caution to an entry in an officer’s yearly performance evaluation.
The report also was critical about the lack of leadership once bullets started to fly. Two sergeants were on the scene, the report said, but when other officers responding to reports of an officer being shot arrived at Stewart’s house, they didn’t know who was in charge or where to go.
Zaccardi had left the scene to take a wounded officer to the hospital, and Sgt. Nate Hutchinson was inside the home when shots were fired.
"The sergeant [in the home] was very heroic," Weber County Attorney Dee Smith said. "He dragged two guys out and was shot four times."
But the report said there should have been an incident commander outside the home who could take control "once the situation deteriorated."
"It is likely that this would have identified evacuation points, medical staging areas and a safe route to the target location," the report reads.
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