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Officers recount the panic and the calm during Ogden shootout

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 31 2012 8:54 p.m. MDT

Protestors Mike Bacunin and Ryan Kropotkin stand outside in support of Matthew Stewart on the the first day of his three-day preliminary hearing at the 2nd District Courthouse in Ogden Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. Stewart is charged with aggravated murder and seven counts of attempted aggravated murder for allegedly opening fire on a team of police officers who arrived at his Ogden home to serve a search warrant.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

OGDEN — Sgt. Steve Zaccardi remembers a sense of calm coming over him as he left the search warrant operation at 3268 Jackson Ave. to transport fellow Ogden police officer Shawn Grogan to a hospital.

"I saw a police car, a Dodge Charger coming in, as I came out my lights hit it and reflected and I said, 'They got there quick,'" Zaccardi testified Wednesday. "A sense of calm came over me, like, 'Help's here.' … I knew there wasn't a patrolman on our (operation), so I knew that help had arrived."

At the time, Zaccardi thought the gunshot wound to Grogan's face was the worst of the injuries sustained when the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force went to serve a search warrant at the home of Matthew Stewart. Zaccardi drove the officer to McKay-Dee Hospital and planned to call his fellow sergeant and supervisor, Nate Hutchinson, for an update on the Jackson Avenue operation.

He had returned to the car to secure Grogan's weapon and was walking back into the hospital when a nurse came rushing by and said, "We got four more coming."

"It was panic in the E.R.," Zaccardi said. "I had a feeling what it was, but I didn't want to believe it. I was hoping and praying. The next thing I know I see agent Draper with Kasey Burrell wheeling him in. (Burrell's) face is covered in blood. … (Officer Michael) Rounkles comes around the corner on a stretcher. He kind of gives me a thumbs up.

"Then Hutchinson comes around the corner and he's walking. He said he's been shot. I had this panic. For the first time in my career, I didn't know what to do."

When the encounter finally ended, Ogden police officer Jared Francom was dead and five other officers were injured in the shootout at Stewart's home.

The description was part of a three-day preliminary hearing on the evidence against Stewart, a hearing begun Wednesday in 2nd District Court as a handful of Stewart backers stood outside the courthouse raising their voices in support of the man accused of killing an officer and injurying five others.

The case against Stewart

Zaccardi said he first received a tip in September 2011 that Stewart was cultivating an indoor marijuana garden in the basement of his home. He assigned the case to a strike force agent, Roy police officer Jason Vanderwarf.

Grogan testified that he went to the home to try and make contact with Stewart. Zaccardi said other officers did as well. But no one ever responded to knocks on the door.  While police saw evidence of marijuana, Zacardi said they weren't sure if anyone lived at the home.

Vanderwarf obtained a "knock and announce" warrant at the home authorizing the officers to enter the house after announcing their presence. A briefing was held Jan. 4 for those agents assigned to the operation and they then gathered nearby at an LDS church before proceeding.

Grogan was the first to knock on the door and announce that they were police officers.

"It's extremely loud," Grogan testified. "He's yelling into the house. … The timeframe would have allowed somebody to make the trip from the far end of the home to this south door at least several times."

Vanderwarf knocked at least four times, according to Zaccardi. Francom was tasked with ramming the door. It took three tries to break through.

"I had a brief little conversation with agent Francom right there at the door, then he went in," Zaccardi said. "So, I believe Jared was the last guy in. In fact, I know he was. … He said, 'Sarge, I didn't get my record of one hit on the door.' He was a big guy, a strong guy. He had a reputation of getting (through) doors on one hit."

The encounter

Zaccardi, who had undergone shoulder surgery, stayed outside the home. But he said he started yelling, "Police, search warrant" as soon as the door was opened. The agents were in two groups. One was assigned to the upstairs portion of the house and the other to the downstairs area. Grogan and two other officers went upstairs.

"I am yelling and announcing that we are police officers and that we have a search warrant," Grogan said. "I do that the entire way through the home until I post up on (the corner of the upstairs hallway)."

He said he paused to tell his fellow agents what he could see and then announced that he was approaching a room on the left with a door partially opened and a light on. He said he was walking toward the door, his gun drawn, but his finger was not on the trigger.

"I see the suspect's arm come around the door of the bedroom holding a firearm," Grogan said.

"Does that weapon fire?" prosecutor Christopher Shaw asked.

"Yes."

"Does it strike you?"

"It does."

Grogan was hit in the cheek. He returned fire and shot until his weapon emptied. When the shooting stopped, he said he made his way out of the home, where he found Zaccardi and asked him to take him to the hospital.

Prosecutors say Stewart fired repeatedly at the officers, striking Francom six times, killing him. Officer Kasey Burrell was hit at least twice. Hutchinson was shot several times as he tried to help his fellow officers. Vanderwarf was also shot in the hip.

Ogden police officer Michael Rounkles was shot twice after he arrived as backup and entered the house to help the wounded officers.

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 a police affidavit.

Ogden police officer Derek Draper testified Wednesday about the efforts he made to save his fellow officers. He said he was with Grogan in the hallway and saw the same gun in the opened door. He said he didn't immediately realize Grogan was shot, but said he opened fire when he realized their lives were in danger.

"I could feel the bullets going through my hair," he said, but he wasn't hit. "The hand moves. There's no longer a threat, the gun's not shooting at me anymore. (I realize) I'm in a dangerous part of the house. That's a kill zone, because there's no way to get out."

He jumped behind a wall into the kitchen and was soon followed by Grogan, who fell on top of him. Draper said he asked if Grogan was OK and the man moved his hand, revealing the wound in his cheek. His priority then became getting Grogan and the other officers out of the house.

"I remember seeing agent Burrell walk past me and I'm yelling, 'Get out,'" Draper said.

More help needed

Draper is able to get Grogan to Zaccardi and radios for more help. He sees Rounkles enter the home with a shotgun and, not long after, hears a sound, returns to the door and sees Rounkles on his back, bleeding.

"I had the radio still and I start to call, 'We got officers down, we need more officers,'" Draper said. "I can hear a gunfight taking place. It's just shots — boom boom boom. It's a gun battle."

Draper returns to the door twice more, finding first a wounded Burrell and then Francom and he said he pulled each man from the home. He places them in the street.

"(Francom) looks at me and he says, 'I'm shot. I'm hit bad. I need help,'" Draper testified. "He turned his head to the right and everything drained out of him."

Soon after a figure emerged from the front door and started to shoot at officers, Draper said. When the shooting stops, he helps move the men behind a police vehicle until the officers can be taken to the hospital.

Draper said they didn't think the home was occupied. He said he wasn't sure whether all the officers were wearing their bulletproof vests.

Dr. Edward Leis, chief deputy medical examiner for Utah, testified that Francom was shot six times. Two of the injuries were potentially fatal as they caused internal injuries, Leis said. But the gunshot that most likely killed Francom was one that entered his back and severed his spine.

Prosecutor Gary Heward said all of the bullets recovered from the officers who were struck were from a Beretta. All the officers carried Glocks, Heward said.

Support for Stewart

At the end of Wednesday's hearing, which is scheduled to continue through Friday, Judge Noel Hyde will determine if there is sufficient evidence to order 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.

Investigators later found a marijuana growing 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."

Stewart's family has adamantly supported him, calling the incident a "tragic misunderstanding" and said Stewart thought he was being robbed. They launched a website — www.helpmatthewstewart.org — to raise money for defense attorneys and to present what they said was their side of the story.

Sister-in-law Erna Stewart said she trusts Matthew Stewart and described him as a polite, soft-spoken person.

"I'm anxious to get the rest of it out," she said. "We haven't had a chance to express our view, our defense. Everything you've seen up until now is against Matthew. … But patience is a virtue. We've been patient 10 months already."

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."

Seven supporters of Stewart demonstrated on the steps of the courthouse before Wednesday's hearing including Ryan Kropotkin of Salt Lake City, who said he has never met Stewart.

"I don't think think he was at fault for defending himself when he thinks he's being robbed," Kropotkin said. "I don't think police should be able to break into people's houses."

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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