Report clearing shot Roy officer paints chaotic scenario of officers trying to save each other
Ravell Call, Deseret News
OGDEN — Roy police officer Jason Vanderwarf had good cause to fire his weapon the night of Jan. 4 when he and members of the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force arrived at the home of Matthew David Stewart and were met with gunfire, an internal review found.
The review also paints a chaotic scenario of officers trying to save each other's lives while under a barrage of gunfire.
"Agent Vanderwarf was forced to make split-second decisions," a Roy Police Department Use of Force report states. "The circumstances were tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving. Deadly force was a reasonable option to effectively bring this incident under control."
He was one of six officers shot while serving a search warrant at the Ogden home.
In the report, investigators recount Vanderwarf's experience, beginning with the arrival of the strike force at Stewart's home, 3268 Jackson Ave. Officers had apparently confirmed that Stewart was growing marijuana in the home and arrived to serve a search warrant.
As the agent-in-charge, Vanderwarf was the first to knock and announce his presence.
"Agent Vanderwarf repeatedly knocked on the south door … while loudly announcing his presence and authority to enter the residence stating 'police, search warrant' multiple times," the report states. "One other member of the team joined him in this announcement."
There was no reply, prompting officers to enter the home while continuing to announce their presence. They were clearing the basement and main floor of the home when Stewart apparently began shooting at them, at close range with a 9mm pistol.
Vanderwarf was downstairs when the shooting began and he ran upstairs to see Ogden police officer Shawn Grogan exit a hallway with a gunshot wound to his face. He then saw officer Kasey Burell fall to the ground and officer Jared Francom attempt to exit while stating that he was wounded, too.
"The suspect continued to fire upon agents Vanderwarf and (Derek) Draper as they were attempting to rescue the downed officers," the report states.
Vanderwarf was struck in the hip, causing him to fall down the basement stairs. He continued to hear gunfire.
"After assessing that he was bloody but ambulatory, he ran back up the stairs only to see agents Francom and Burrell stacked on top of one another on the floor by the back door in a futile attempt to escape," according to the report.
"Seeing these two agents in obvious distress he bent down to help them only to receive more gunfire in his direction."
Vanderwarf stepped out of the line of fire just in time to see another officer, Weber County Sheriff's Sgt. Nate Hutchinson, get hit. Vanderwarf and Draper then began dragging Francom and Burrell away from the home, but Stewart allegedly continued to fire at them from the front door of the home.
Vanderwarf fired two rounds, both missing Stewart. Investigators determined his actions were justified under the circumstances.
"Agent Vanderwarf and every other officer in that home were in imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury," the report states. "The suspect had already committed a felony involving the inflicting or threatened inflicting of serious bodily injury or death. There was an imminent or future potential risk of serious bodily injury or death to others if the suspect was not immediately apprehended. The circumstances precluded the communication of a verbal warning."
Francom died of injuries sustained in the melee and five other officers were shot and hospitalized.
The report on Vanderwarf is the first to be released and will now be turned over to the Weber County Attorney's Office, which will review the case to determine if there was any criminal negligence on the officer's part. But Roy Police Chief Greg Whinham called the man "heroic."
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