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January 04, 2012
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Utah officer killed, 5 others wounded in shootout

Officers were trying to serve a drug-related search warrant

Associated Press

OGDEN, Utah — Search warrant in hand, a team of bulletproof vest-wearing officers rapped on the door of a small, red-brick Utah house, identifying themselves as police. When no one responded, authorities say, the officers burst inside.

That's when the gunfire erupted.

When it was over Wednesday night, a 7-year veteran officer was dead and five of his colleagues were wounded, some critically. The suspect, an Army veteran whose estranged father said suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and may have been self-medicating with marijuana, was injured.

Now, as the city tries to grapple with the outburst of violence and the loss of one of its officers, investigators are trying to determine how the raid as part of a drug investigation could have gone so terribly wrong.

"It's a very, very sad day," an emotional Ogden Police Chief Wayne Tarwater said Thursday.

A candlelight vigil for the fallen officers is planned for Thursday night at an Ogden amphitheater.

Police declined to reveal details of the shooting besides a general timeline, citing the ongoing investigation.

They would not say, for instance, whether the shootout took place entirely inside the home or spilled out into the yard, how many shots were fired and how many guns were recovered.

There will be several investigations, including one by Ogden police and another outside probe by prosecutors.

Among the questions that authorities will try to answer was whether the officers, in the chaotic moments upon entering the house, may have inadvertently fired on each other.

Police said the warrant was based on information about possible drug activity, but would not say what officers were specifically looking for inside Matthew David Stewart's home, which sits across the street from a Mormon church meeting house.

Stewart, 37, was in the hospital with non-life threatening injuries, authorities said. He does not have an attorney yet.

Utah court records show Stewart's criminal history includes only a 2005 conviction for a class B misdemeanor traffic violation _ operating a vehicle without insurance. A judge found him guilty after a bench trial and ordered him to pay a $350 fine.

State officials also placed a pair of tax liens on Stewart last August.

Stewart served in the Army from July 1994 to December 1998, spending a year based in Fort Bragg, N.C., and nearly three years stationed in Germany, Army records show.

He held a post as a communications equipment specialist, earning an Army Achievement Medal and a National Defense Service Medal. Both are given for completing active service, although they don't indicate exceptional acts of valor.

Stewart's father, Michael Stewart, said his son works a night shift at a local Walmart and may have been sleeping when police arrived.

"When they kicked in the door, he probably felt threatened," said Michael Stewart, who has been estranged from his son for more than a year, but keeps track of him through his two other sons.

The elder Stewart said his son suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression and may have been treating it with small amounts of pot. He said he believes his son may have been growing the weed himself.

He said he didn't believe his son owned any automatic weapons and that the family is upset by what happened. "This is my son's problem and we're grieving for him and all of the officers," Michael Stewart said. "I'm dead sick about it."

Weber County Attorney Dee Smith said it wasn't yet clear what charges Stewart might face once the shooting investigation concludes.

"But it appears right now, with the information we have, that we have an aggravated murder as well as a number of other attempted aggravated murders," Smith said, choking back tears.

Aggravated murder is a capital crime and, if convicted, Stewart could face the death penalty.

The officer killed, Jared Francom, was with the Ogden police. He leaves behind two daughters, aged 3 and 5, and his wife of seven years, Erin.

"She's upset, but she's hanging in there," Frisby said of his daughter. "I can only describe her as a rock."

Joining the narcotics strike force had long been Francom's dream job, according to his father-in-law, John Frisby. Francom, 30, had worked as a part-time patrol officer and took security jobs on the side until he was finally chosen for the select group.

It was a "big honor," Frisby said when reached by telephone at his home in Henderson, Nev. "He was good at it."

By mid-day Thursday, more than 1,000 friends and strangers had expressed their support and gratitude for Francom and his family on a memorial Facebook page with prayers, poems and other message. Some posters swapped out their profile pictures for a black logo with a blue stripe representing fallen officers.

Authorities said the conditions of the officers ranged from serious to critical. They are Ogden officers Shawn Grogan, Kasey Burrell and Michael Rounkles, Weber County sheriff's Sgt. Nate Hutchinson and Roy officer Jason VanderWarf.

Kevin Burrell, Kasey Burrell's father, said his son was shot in the head. A seven-year veteran of the police force, the younger Burrell was sedated, but appears to be improving, his father said.

On Wednesday, witnesses said they heard three quick pops followed by a two- to three-minute pause, then lots of gunfire and officers yelling at someone to "put your hands up," in the backyard.

Outside Stewart's house on Thursday armed SWAT officers clothed in camouflage remained on guard as police continued their search of the property. The yard was taped off and dotted with numbered evidence markers.

Residents said they were shocked to hear there was any drug activity in the area or a shootout on their street.

Associated PressCopyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

"This has always been a quiet neighborhood. We've been here for 11 years," said Andrew Mair, who said his wife hid in the couple's basement in fear when the gunfire rang out. "I've never heard anything crazy going on."

Copyright 2012 Associated Press






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