Drug War

Who Started That Deadly Shootout in Ogden?

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The chain of events that led to a January 4 shootout in Ogden, Utah, that left one police officer dead and five others wounded apparently began, as these things often do, with an informant's tip. Last September, The Salt Lake Tribune reports, the informant told Ogden police that Matthew Stewart, a 37-year-old Army veteran who worked at a local Walmart, was growing marijuana in his house at 3268 Jackson Avenue. According to a September 15 police report obtained by the newspaper, the tipster "stated that she has personally seen a hydroponics grow in [Stewart's] basement." She claimed that "it produces approximately 12-15 marijuana plants," that Stewart "keeps the marijuana in a freezer," and that "he also sells some." Neighbors told the Deseret News they never noticed suspicious traffic at Stewart's house, and his father told the Tribune that Stewart used the pot instead of prescription drugs to treat depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. But let's say the informant was right that Stewart sold some surplus pot from his modest hydroponic setup. Let us also note that his home is located across the street from a Mormon meeting house, which means it is inside a state-designated "drug-free zone." It is still hard to make sense of the armed assault that resulted in "a scene not unlike a war zone," as the Associated Press put it.

According to the official police account, a dozen or so officers and deputies went to Stewart's house between 8 and 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 4. Six members of the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force knocked on a side door, identifying themselves as police officers. When there was no response, they broke down the door about 8:40 p.m., again announcing that they were police officers serving a search warrant. Police say Stewart emerged from a hiding place about five minutes later, while they were searching the house, and began firing at them with a 9mm Beretta pistol. They say he kept shooting at them after they retreated from the house, then escaped through a bedroom window when they returned fire. He ran inside a metal shed in the backyard and continued firing from there, surrendering after he was wounded.

Stewart, who worked the night shift at Walmart, told the Tribune that he was asleep when the police arrived and that after he was awakened by an alarm clock he heard the sound of glass breaking and surmised that he was being robbed. He said he did not hear the intruders identify themselves and did not realize they were police officers. "When you're convinced that you are getting robbed and most likely killed by a group of armed men," he said, "your instincts kick in."

Is Stewart's account plausible? It is hard to tell from the various press reports how long the shootout lasted, but it's conceivable that someone in the situation he describes could have remained confused for several minutes at least, especially if people were shooting at him. The Tribune says the police affidavit supporting the case against Stewart "goes to lengths to demonstrate Stewart knew, or should have known, he was firing at police officers." Not only should he have heard the announcements, it says; he should have seen flashing lights when he looked out his front door at the retreating officers, and he should have noticed the "standard police uniform" worn by one of the wounded officers, Michael Rounkles. Perhaps so, but that detail suggests that Rounkles, who arrived as backup and entered the house after the shooting had started, was the only police officer in the house who was clearly dressed as one. The most damning part of the official police account is the claim that last summer Stewart told an unnamed acquaintance that if police ever raided his house looking for pot he would "go out in a blaze of glory and shoot to kill." Assuming he really said that, it might have been bravado, but it certainly does not make him look good.

Almost all of the information that has emerged so far comes from the police or prosecutors. The defense attorney hired by Stewart's family complains that police still have not allowed his investigators to visit the scene of the shootout and that prosecutors (who apparently have a grudge against him based on his past work in death penalty cases) are ignoring his discovery requests. To solicit money for Stewart's defense, his family has created a website that describes the shootout as "a tragic misunderstanding."

At least some of the official claims about Stewart seem dubious. Last month, the Tribune reported, Weber County Attorney Dee Smith, who is seeking the death penalty for Stewart, "said officers searching Matthew Stewart's house had found a photo of Stewart dressed 'as a terrorist' with 'some kind of bomb device.'" According to Stewart's father, however, "the photo actually shows his son in a Halloween costume that he wore three or four years ago." He went as Osama bin Laden. Investigators also found a "suspicious device" that was detonated by a local bomb squad. But last month A.P. reported that Smith's office had "dropped a dangerous weapon enhancement included in the charges originally filed." The remaining charges against Stewart, whose most serious offense until now was driving without insurance: one count of aggravated murder, eight counts of attempted aggravated murder, and one count of marijuana cultivation.

That last charge sorta pales beside the others, doesn't it? Yet it was the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force's determination to hunt down a dozen or so pot plants that set the stage for this whole senseless tragedy. (Police say they found "multiple" plants, so that's at least two!) Stewart's father says police "botched" their raid, knocking down a door at night instead of, say, arresting the suspected pot grower at Walmart. If police had been familiar enough with Stewart's schedule to know when he was working, of course, they might have realized he was apt to be sleeping when they came knocking with their warrant. Smith said the cops made "a number of attempts to go to that house and do this as low-key as possible…to get him to cooperate" but got no response. It's not clear whether Stewart was at home and awake during these attempts.

Smith added that "if they had been expecting to find weapons, it would have been a different warrant and a different approach." Probably not a less violent approach, though; presumably Smith means police would have knocked down the door without anouncing themselves, and it's hard to see how that would have improved the outcome. In any case, there's a good chance a Utah homeowner will have a gun for self-defense, especially if he's worried about people stealing his pot.

These are all ultimately tactical quibbles, however. Stewart's father comes closer to the central issue when he says, "I'm hoping the citizens of this state can look at what's happened here and rethink the drug war." Once the government decides it will use force to stop people from consuming certain arbitrarily chosen intoxicants, once police officers see nothing wrong with charging into a man's home because he might be growing a few unapproved plants in the basement, this sort of thing is bound to happen. Whether or not Stewart is telling the truth about his state of mind that night, it's clear he was not the one who initiated the violence.

Lucy Steigerwald discussed the Ogden shootout and the response to it last month.

[Thanks to Ryan Ellis for the tip.]

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  1. “produces approximately 12-15 marijuana plants”

    That’s a six foot sliding door closet with sheets hanging over it. Aint no big time grow.

  2. 10,000 years of it.

    That’s the way the POLI roll.

    1. Have I mentioned how yummy cock is?

    2. WHITE INDIAN = WHITE RETARD + INDIAN WANNABE

  3. “When you’re convinced that you are getting robbed and most likely killed by a group of armed men,” he said, “your instincts kick in.”

    Or you have a dozen marijuana plants and are a paranoid suffering from PTSD.

    I’m sympathetic to this guys plight, but why can’t the libertarian posterboy be Willie Nelson? He’s mostly harmless, and he can sing.

  4. This just sucks. No matter what Stewart’s intention, it is just awful.

    For obvious reasons, it is not advisable to shoot at the police, but damnit, you should be able to defend yourself against armed intruders in your house who are there to lock you up for no good reason.

  5. As a juror, I’d ask myself which was more likely: a guy with absolutely no history of violence fired at people he knew to be police officers; or a guy was rousted from his sleep by he sound of his front door imploding, and that the intruders made only a half-hearted effort to identify themselves before bursting in?

    1. Which is why you’ll never be a juror.

      1. Which is why you’ll never be a juror.

        If I answered honestly during voir dire, I’d be the first one stricken. Hell, they’dprobably find a way to blacklist me.

        I’ve never been on a jury, and I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be the sole holdout when the other eleven are clamoring for blood. Especially in a case like this, I imagine the pressure to convict would be very intense.

    2. “a guy with absolutely no history of violence”

      He was in the Army. Last I checked, they weren’t in the business of handing out food to homeless people.

      1. He was in the Army. Last I checked, they weren’t in the business of handing out food to homeless people.

        Maybe all search warrants from here on out should be executed differently when the suspect is known to be a military veteran.

        Officer safety, after all.

      2. Unfortunately, they are in that business.

      3. They actually are in the business of handing out food to homeless people. They first blow up or otherwise destroy the person’t home, then feed him…

  6. What the hell is a state “drug-free zone”? Aren’t all zones drug-free since they’re illegal everywhere, or am I missing someplace awesome?

    1. A ‘drug-free zone,’ like near a school, is where it’s doubleplusbad to possess drugs, and accordingly the penalties are more severe.

      1. It’s also the stupidest law ever if being on some other private property within that distance isn’t an exception.

      2. So like a construction or school zone for traffic tickets. What a stupid name. It implies that other places are drug-plentiful.

        1. When actually, the areas around (in) the school are actually the ones that are drug plentiful.

    2. Double secret probation drug free zone.

      I think that’s the full official terminology.

  7. Is Stewart’s account plausible?

    Seems plausible enough for reasonable doubt – especially with the loony prosecutor wanting the death penalty.

    1. Reasonable doubt in Berkeley, maybe. Provo is more dicey for something like this.

      1. Yeah, a creepy pot-smoking long-hair shot a cop. In a state where consuming caffeinated drinks is a sin. I’m not seeing a lot of light at the end of the tunnel for this guy.

        1. There’s a dead cop. No reasonable doubt about that. Therefore, he’s guilty. This is the calculus here. Plenty of case history behind that one. He’s guilty even if discovery shows the cop died from friendly fire.

  8. What I find amazing in all of this is that the police didn’t finish Stewart off in the shootout.

    1. They only do that to the unarmed and to dogs.

      1. Well the story says he surrendered after he was wounded. You’d think they would jump all over that, blow fifty holes in him now that he’s weakened, and then point fingers at that “blaze of glory” remark they’re so proud of.

        1. By the time it was all said and done, I imagine the cops had had their fill of shooting and death. All of sudden it wasn’t as exciting and fun as shooting dogs and forcing old ladies to the ground at gunpoint.

          1. It’s no fun when the rabbit’s got the gun.

            1. “That’s no ordinary rabbit!”

              1. LOOK AT THE BONES!

          2. You know what’s worse than a contrarian? A groupthink sycophant.

        2. They probably didn’t know about the “blaze of glory” quote at the time of the raid.

          Also note that Ryan Fredericks and Cory Maye weren’t killed either, so maybe you’ve erred in your estimate of how cops react in that situation.

          1. Point to the fact post facto, Tulpa.

            I usually like you, but you’re on a strikeout streak lately.

            1. What is a “fact post facto”? And a friend in need is a friend indeed, which shows what kind of friend you are (if any).

            2. If you’re referring to the timing of the quote, the article doesn’t state when police found out about it, but it seems highly unlikely that they knew before the raid. The only information they had about him at that time was from the informant, who presumably wasn’t the “acquaintance” they got the quote from, otherwise they would have identified her as such.

              It’s an educated guess, hence the “probably”.

            3. I also note that you break out the long knives for my educated guess, while letting the person I was responding to completely off the hook for their baseless conjecture.

              1. All I’m saying is they exercised surprising restraint, considering he killed one of theirs in the shooting. And yes, my supposition was that they would’ve come up with whatever they could, as they’re doing now anyway, to justify killing him.

        3. He was facing them. If he had turned around they would have shot him.

          Actually I have very mixed feelings here. If they had all been wearing uniforms I would side with the police, despite the idiocy of going in the way and time they did.

          1. The fact is, anyone dying is tragic, but it’s the police storming into these situations, heavily-armed, with debatable details on whether they identified themselves, how the person responded, etc, that leads to these deaths. It’s not the fault of the homeowner whose place is being assaulted.

  9. Candy bars getting smaller, Michelle Obama evil!

  10. Part of me thinks that Stewart would’ve been better off had he died of his wounds, that way he wouldn’t be around for them to tarnish his reputation and spend years trying him in court and possibly sending him to death row.

    1. They’re would’ve done that anyway. But yeah, maybe not as much.

      1. Jose Guerena is dead and all but forgotten except by those of us who pay attention to this sort of thing. Stewart’s saga has only begun. It takes years before an execution takes place and he hasn’t even gotten to trial.

  11. Ever watch Dragnet? Two polite men in suits knock on the door and wait for someone to answer. I don’t see why that wouldn’t work here. Let’s put aside the whole marijuana shouldn’t be illegal in the first place thing, and imagine this guy was writing bad checks or some other non-violent not immediately threatening thing. You need a SWAT team for that? They knew where he worked. They could have just picked him up in front of Walmart.

    And why don’t these yahoos have obvious police uniforms? It’s not like they have any need to hide their presence.

    1. You know how hard it is to stitch the word “police” into Kevlar?

      1. They do often label the back of the vest, which I always thought was kind of stupid. Isn’t it more important that a person you’re facing knows you’re police, rather than someone following you?

        1. It’s important to prevent friendly fire!

          1. I thnk the leason learned here is always sleep in a nighty with “POLICE” stenciled on the back. Stewart likely could have escaped all this by simply blending into the crowd and then slipping out after announcing he was going on a donut run.

            1. The only reason you aren’t getting a bill for a new monitor is that I had just barely managed to swallow my drink before I read that.

            2. Excellent! Black Kevlar nighties for all!

    2. You need a SWAT team for that?

      But this wasn’t bad checks…it was DRUUGGZZ!

      1. Most people care more about bad checks.

  12. “I’m hoping the citizens of this state can look at what’s happened here and rethink the drug war.”

    Probably not. It’s Utah. The WoD is about religion here (bad religious understanding of the D&C, IMO, but they think what they think).

    Hard to get people to think pragmatically when they think God told me to do something.

    1. Should be quote marks above around “God told me to do something.”

      1. I am more worried about members of jurries who have to do what the judge instructs them.

    2. Hard to get people to think pragmatically when they think God told me to do something.

      It’s a state where strange, robed men can crawl into your daughter’s room in the middle of the night, and convince her that God commands her to go with you on a spiritual journey.

      1. Everytime a police millage passes, every time somebody uses the word “heroes”, I become more convinced that the only real pandemic in this country is Stockholm Syndrome.

    3. God told me to kill religious nuts.

      Of course, I told God he could fuck himself.

      Or did I?

  13. Whether or not Stewart is telling the truth about his state of mind that night, it’s clear he was not the one who initiated the violence.

    Uh, he initiated the violence when he assaulted the sensibilities of the informant, and then compounded that violence by assaulting the sensibilities of the police officers whom she informed. Not to mention the Mormon meeting house attendants (even though it seems they didn’t know he was doing it). Fuck, it’s like a spree of violence before the cops ever even showed up.

  14. Their website says that donations have been suspended and that they’re working with the State of Utah to return the ability to donate on their site.

    I wonder what the reasoning is for not allowing them to collect donations is.

    1. They were forced to stop collecting because they didn’t get the required permits to do so. I think I read it somewhere on Radley’s site.

  15. Am I free to gambol about the Stedding?

    1. Haven’t had a good WoT reference in awhile.

      1. There is no such thing as a good WoT reference. Idiot.

        1. I’m plodding through book six now, and I see what people were warning me about a couple months ago. It’s all secret keeping, shawl adjusting, and skirt smoothing.

          1. Ugg.. I think I read to book 9? Seems like not a thing happened between 4 and 7 or so.

            Read “The Sword of Truth” if you like a ridiculously long fantasy series, it’s better than WoT especially for those with a libertarian bent.

  16. By my lights the only thing tragic about this is that Mr. Stewart managed to kill one and wound five, rather than killing six and wounding zero.

      1. You too are truly disgusting.

        1. Wha-da-ya mean? It’s cool to play a tough guy on the internet.
          Safer, too!

    1. Now dunphy is going to come in and call you a mindless cop hater.

      Meanwhile, out of the other side of his mouth, he will vigorously denounce the war on drugs and blame it all on the legislators.

      1. Because being against the drug war means you must support killing cops?

        1. This is Reason! Don’t you know we hate cops, and the only rational thing to do is to kill them all, before they kill your dog?

        2. That’s right; just like being against the holocaust means you must support killing Nazis.

          1. That’s not true either.

          2. I was for the holocaust before I was against it…just saying

        3. Because being against the drug war means you must support killing cops?

          “Killing” cops? No. But when you come busting through a man’s door in the black of night without identifying yourselves and being recognized as the police, don’t be surprised when you bullet start flying at you.

          But then, that’s the difference between playing peace officer and warfighter. Peace officers keep shit peaceful as within their ability (that includes serving warrants). Warfighters shoot and get shot at in return.

          1. If you’re against killing cops, why are you expressing comraderie with a guy who wished he’d killed cops?

            1. If you’re against killing cops, why are you expressing comraderie with a guy who wished he’d killed cops?

              You aren’t paying attention. I’m no more for killing cops than for killing any other person. But when people do dumb shit (like raiding someone’s house at night over a handful of marijuana plants with guns drawn and the startled homeowner/resident opens fire) my sympathies are in short supply.

              There are better ways to serve a search warrant.

            2. P.S.

              I was also baiting dunphy for if and when he shows up, since he tried to take me to task for denying an officer the power to summarily execute a suspect (Remarley Graham) based on the information immediately available to them.

    2. You are a truly disgusting creature.

      1. Oh go fuck yourself. These badge-wearing pieces of shit conducted a militarized raid on a private residence in the middle of the night, under the pretense of arresting the homeowner for the crime of cultivating politically-incorrect plants.

        And make no mistake: it was pure pretense, because they had every opportunity to arrest the guy peacefully, outside his home, during broad daylight.

        In other words, they went out of their way to be thuggish assholes and it backfired on them. I merely find it regrettable that it didn’t backfire even more spectacularly, so as to spare other people their thuggish assholery in the future.

        If wanting to spare other people the depredations of thuggish assholes makes me a “disgusting creature” in your eyes, I’m pretty sure I’ll survive.

        1. That pretty much covers why I agreed with you.

  17. Stewart’s father says police “botched” their raid, knocking down a door at night instead of, say, arresting the suspected pot grower at Walmart. If police had been familiar enough with Stewart’s schedule to know when he was working, of course, they might have realized he was apt to be sleeping when they came knocking with their warrant.

    But if they had done that, they wouldn’t have gotten to wear their cool military surplus gear and kick in his door in the dead of night like the Gestapo in Call of Duty!

    And nobody has ever been robbed by people dressed as cops, and certainly not as recently as last year.

  18. If (the biggest word in the dictionary) an autopsy was/is performed on the officer killed in this raid and then made public I would bet it would show he was not killed by a 9mm round from Mr. Stewart’s gun but by rounds from fellow officers. That raid sounds like a fustercluck from planning to handcuffs.

    Of course it would be Mr. Stewart’s fault because he was such a danger to society that it took a dozen heavily armed – but lightly trained – officers to bring him to court.

    This sounds like Waco deja vu on a small scale.

  19. Police say Stewart emerged from a hiding place about five minutes later, while they were searching the house, and began firing at them with a 9mm Beretta pistol.

    So they didn’t clear the house before starting their search? Sounds like they didn’t think the occupant was that dangerous after all…. which makes one wonder why they were playing GI Joe in the first place.

    From the way these raids are conducted, it seems that if they ever did happen on one of the dangerous drug dealers that supposedly justify SWAT tactics in the first place, they’d be killed to the last man because they’re so sloppy in procedures.

    1. I pray that you are right.

    2. I noticed that too. First rule of room clearing – open every door and check every damn room, before fucking with the pot plants and high-fiving each other.

      These cops fucked up, and one of them died because of it. Next time, arrest the guy on the way to work, then search his house.

      1. It seems likely that they did not in fact think there was a dangerous person inside the house; that they’ve done raids like this dozens of times and no one has ever violently resisted, so they assumed it would be another episode of playing soldier against helpless “civilians” this time too.

        1. Which defeats the whole purpose of dressing up like ninjas (not that I agree with the use in most cases). If you are going half-ass stroll through somebody’s house, you are less likely to get shot if you stay dressed in a real police uniform.

        2. By the account it was a 15 second delay from first announce to ramming the door in. I don’t know about your house, but I pretty much don’t reach the front door in 15 seconds unless I’m already standing there.

          1. Not all of us live in mansions.

          2. You expect them to waste precious minutes for the mere sake of saving lives? Silly civilian.

    3. which makes one wonder why they were playing GI Joe in the first place.

      Dude – you’re harshing their rush.

      1. Well played, sir… Well played…

  20. Only a completely out of control government, with policy concocted by absolute morons could declare war on a botanical species, and individuals who choose to grow, consume, and sell it in the privacy of their own homes. One can only hope that someday the tables will be turned, and that the “drug warriors” will be given the fair trial they deny to so many of their victims, at a war crimes tribunal convened for this express purpose. At such a time, those who made these crimes expensive and dangerous for the perpetrators, will be exonerated, and remembered as the true heroes.

  21. By way of clarification: I do not advocate violence against anyone, especially law enforcement. However the right of private citizens to defend themselves against unidentified intruders is something else entirely, and drug prohibition will, I believe, someday be regarded in the same light as slavery. It negates the concept of self-ownership, and reduces the individual’s body to state/corporate property.

    1. When the laws being enforced are unjust, although the punishment may still be greater for resisting I wouldn’t call it immoral to do so.

  22. “The most damning part of the official police account is the claim that last summer Stewart told an unnamed acquaintance that if police ever raided his house looking for pot he would “go out in a blaze of glory and shoot to kill.” Assuming he really said that, it might have been bravado, but it certainly does not make him look good.”

    Really? Sure about that?

    1. An “unnamed acquaintance”? Who just happened to relay that story to the police – who could use it to justify their own stupidity. And of course they can’t divulge who said this – have to protect their CIs.

  23. With “police” these days dressing in black uniforms, with heavily tattooed arms, balaclavas, shouting obscenities and smashing the place up, it’s pretty reasonable for someone to mistake them for an armed gang.

  24. “once police officers see nothing wrong with charging into a man’s home because he might be growing a few unapproved plants in the basement”

    which is… wait for it… a felony in the state of Utah.

    the BLAME rests with those who made it a FELONY to cultivate mj, thus justifying such warrants, which before being served are routinely Ok’d by prosecuting attorneys, signed by judges, and THEN served.

    one can quibble about tactics all one wants, but it’s at least reasonably likely, ATFPAPIC that he was looking to go out in a blaze of glory … and did so.

    1. there are a lot of laws on the books dunphy. the police bear some responsibility for choosing the ones they choose to enforce. but property crime police work doesn’t seem to give them boners.

      1. generally speaking, cops choose to enforce stuff based upon certainty, public demand, etc.

        it was the legislature that made mj cultivation a felony, and like it or not, if you actually GO TO community meetings, public outcry is to “get rid of these dope houses”, “bust the drug dealers” etc.

        apparently, there was ample PC in this case, the suspect and target location were clear, and so the warrant was sought.

        cops don’t choose to ignore felonies, generally speaking.

        1. But, the cops do choose to go after non-violent suspects with a maximum of violence, disregarding plenty of less dangerous alternatives to do so.

          So, your “just following orders” defense doesn’t even get out of the starting gate this time.

          They wanted to play soldiers, they got in a firefight. That’s gonna happen. The fact that they wanted to play soldiers for no good reason makes the cops look even worse.

    2. Blaze of Glory would certainly imply more than a single 9mm…I would think at least two and maybe a knife, (a really big fucking knife like that australian guy had in that movie, you know the one I’m talking about)

    3. Police are also influential in stoking that demand. How many cops present the safer alternative of legalization at those community meetings?

      So, it’s not simply the legislature.

      The police are given a large amount of leeway in regards to methods used to execute the warrants. The judge and prosecutors merely OK searches, not the methods (other than maybe authorizing a night warrant).

      The police, in their zeal, chose to create a dangerous situation, and thus bear a lot of responsibility. In fact they are well aware that they must make these types of raids appear dangerous to ensure future funding.

      They could have simply picked the guy up at walmart and took his keys and opened his home.

  25. Baboon troop authoritarian speaks!

    Orders were followed.

    Warrants were served.

    Doors were broken.

    Shots were fired.

    Lives were destroyed.

    Suicide by drug war.

    1. and the derpity derp derp derp

  26. Come on, Fosdick- tell us some more about your highly evolved form of libertarianism, where obedience to the state is the highest virtue, and stepping out of line is punishable by summary execution.

  27. The war on drugs still kills people. This guy was no harming anyone and look what happened. The police should use their resources to catch rapists and murders! Government has no right to tell you what you can and can not put into your body!

  28. Please show support for civil liberties and the right to defend one’s home at http://www.facebook.com/groups/322714584428207/

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