OGDEN — A preliminary hearing began Wednesday for a man accused of killing a police officer and injuring at least five others in a shootout at his Ogden home.
At the end of the hearing, which is scheduled to continue through Friday, 2nd District Judge Noel Hyde will determine if there is sufficient evidence to order Matthew David Stewart to stand trial on charges of aggravated murder, a capital offense; seven counts of attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony; and production of a controlled substance, a second-degree felony.
Subpoenas have been issued to nearly all members of the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force who served a search warrant at Stewart's home on Jan. 4. The officers had received information that Stewart was growing marijuana.
Stewart is accused of opening fire on the officers when they entered his house.
The man's family contends that he is a "police scapegoat" who didn't hear officers announce their presence. He has said he thought that he was being robbed.
Stewart "advanced on the officers as they were trying to evacuate the residence and continued firing at the officers as they moved away from the house." - Court Affidavit
Officers, however, say they entered the home with a search warrant only after loudly announcing several times, "Police, search warrant."
After the officers entered the home and cleared the basement and the main floor, they continued to announce their presence with no response as they went through the house, an arrest warrant states. Stewart surprised the group and allegedly started shooting.
Ogden police officer Shawn Grogan was struck in the face and fell to the floor.
"Matthew David Stewart fired repeatedly at those agents, striking agent Kasey Burrell at least twice and mortally wounding agent Jared Francom who was struck six times," the affidavit states.
Weber County Sheriff's Sgt. Nate Hutchinson was shot "several times" as he tried to help his fallen fellow officers. Jason VanderWarf was also shot in the hip.
Stewart then "advanced on the officers as they were trying to evacuate the residence and continued firing at the officers as they moved away from the house toward Jackson Avenue," according to the affidavit.
Ogden police officer Michael Rounkles was shot twice after he arrived as backup and entered the house to help the wounded officers.
Even after the officers had left the house, Stewart went to the door and continued firing "into the street and front yard at the already wounded agents and fellow agents who were trying to evacuate them," prosecutors said.
Stewart allegedly ran to a shed in his backyard and continued to fire at officers before giving up and surrendering after he had been shot.
Investigators later found a marijuana grow operation in the basement, including artificial lighting and a water system. According to the arrest warrant, Stewart told a friend that if police officers ever tried to stop his marijuana cultivation, he'd "go out in a blaze of glory and shoot to kill."
Family: Incident is "tragic misunderstanding"
But Stewart's family has adamantly supported him, calling the incident a "tragic misunderstanding." They launched a website — www.helpmatthewstewart.org — to raise money for defense attorneys and present their side of the story.
We're devastated by Matthew being made a scapegoat for violent mistakes and procedures of the police.
On Sunday, the family posted its first entry on the website since July, saying they hope some of their questions will be answered during the three-day hearing. The family also issued a statement on Tuesday.
"We're devastated by Matthew being made a scapegoat for violent mistakes and procedures of the police," the Stewart family wrote. "Matthew is suffering tremendously, being treated as a guilty convict for 10 months before his trial even reached the preliminary hearing."
They said Stewart has "struggled just to survive" the injuries he sustained in the shooting. They report that he has been kept in a 5-by-9-foot cell for 23 hours a day and is a casualty of the "war on drugs."
"Matthew is a victim of the drug war, a survivor of police violence, a police scapegoat and political prisoner," the statement reads. "We must support him and all political prisoners — or all our civil liberties will be lost."
The family planned a rally in front of the courthouse for Stewart's supporters to begin at 7:45 a.m. Wednesday.