Last remaining hospitalized Ogden officer remains fair; police departments continuing to heal
OGDEN — The last officer who is still hospitalized after being shot while investigating a suspected marijuana grower remained in fair condition Wednesday.
A short statement from McKay-Dee Hospital Center noted there was no change in the condition of Ogden police officer Kasey Burrell. Four others have been released from hospital care and still, others continue to be impacted by the emotion of the Jan. 4 shooting incident that killed one officer and injured five more.
Police chiefs involved in the ongoing investigation of the shooting are eager to get their teams back together, but not before allowing officers whatever time they need to heal.
"The funeral service and procession to the cemetery (last week) was a clear reflection that the community does care," said interim Ogden Police Chief Wayne Tarwater. Officers, he said, know they have the support of fellow law enforcement, but knowing they have support from the community is helping them to continue doing their jobs.
Still, morale is at "an all-time high," Tarwater said.
Officers in Ogden and Roy, who were involved in the shooting incident, are on leave until they can be cleared of any wrong-doing. In the meantime, surrounding agencies have been stepping in to help wherever needed — including on the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force, which served the warrant to the home of Matthew Stewart the night gunshots rang out.
Stewart surprised the officers after they entered his house and opened fire "from a concealed position" with a Beretta 9mm semiautomatic pistol, according to a police affidavit. He allegedly continued firing at police, even after they had left his house. The shootout continued as Stewart fled to a backyard shed where he eventually surrendered after being shot multiple times.
Ogden police officer Jared Francom was killed in the incident. Burrell was one of five officers injured. At least one of the injured officers arrived as backup after the initial shootings and was trying to get other officers to safety when he, too, was shot.
Roy Police Chief Greg Whinham is hoping his officer injured during the shootout, Jason VanderWarf, will be back on the job "pretty quickly."
VanderWarf was shot in the hip after entering Stewart's house along with members of the strike force.
Whinham said that in addition to being cleared to return to work following an internal report of the incident, VanderWarf must also be cleared by a doctor, and have in place a good support system for the officer's mental well being.
While the final internal report may take some time to complete, Whinham hoped an initial report would be on his desk by next week.
"Each department in Weber County has their own internal investigation," he said. "We'll only look at the actions of our officer in relation to the event. The county attorney will look at the totality of the event."
Whinham said the external investigation by Weber County Attorney Dee Smith was "far more complex" than his department's internal investigation and anticipated it would be "much later" when that report is completed. He could not predict when that might be.
Other Roy officers arrived at Stewart's house as backup after the officers were shot. But VanderWarf was the only one placed on paid leave.
As of Wednesday, Whinham said he had not replaced VanderWarf with another Roy officer to be on the narcotics strike force simply because of staffing issues. Once VanderWarf is cleared to return to work, Whinham said he believes the officer wants to return to the strike force.
Tarwater said police are often put in dangerous situations and grief counseling, as well as group debriefing sessions, have been made available to anyone in the department who feels it is necessary. Some have even had to be coaxed into talking to someone and relieving some of the emotional pressure of the incident.
"We realize this is an issue that won't be over anytime soon," Tarwater said. "We're doing the best we can to address everybody, but we also need to take care of ourselves. In the end, we still have a job to do."
A community fundraiser is being planned to help the family of Burrell, including his wife who is due to deliver their third child in June. The family is in need of baby supplies and other necessities as Burrell recuperates. Donations will be accepted Feb. 4, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the federal office building located in Ogden, at 324 25th Street.
Stewart has been charged in 2nd District Court with capital murder, seven counts of attempted aggravated murder, and manufacturing a controlled substance. The Weber County Attorney's Office has already filed notice that it intends to seek the death penalty if Stewart is convicted.
His exact condition at Ogden Regional Medical Center has been guarded. His attorney said late last week that he was in the intensive care unit. Stewart is not believed to have suffered any life-threatening injuries.
It remained unclear Wednesday when he might be released from the hospital and booked into jail.
Contributing: Lori Prichard
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