OGDEN — Matthew David Stewart, the man accused of shooting and killing Ogden police officer Jared Francom and wounding five others, committed suicide inside his Weber County Jail cell early Friday.
About 12:50 a.m., a corrections officer making an hourly check of cells found Stewart, 39, hanging from a bed sheet, said Weber County Attorney Dee Smith. Less than an hour earlier, Stewart had been seen "awake and alert" on his bed, he said.
Smith had few other details to release about the death Friday, noting that the Utah Department of Public Safety has been asked to conduct an independent investigation.
But now that Stewart's case is closed, Smith opened up about the criminal charges against him, saying that Stewart fired 31 rounds at officers on the night of Jan. 4, 2012, including shots at officers who had already been shot and were being dragged out of the house to safety.
Seventeen of those shots hit police officers.
Smith also tersely responded to allegations from Stewart's family that his rights had been violated by officers they referred to as a "gang of thugs."
"Mr. Stewart was afforded all of his constitutional rights," Smith said.
Stewart was charged with aggravated murder, a capital offense, in the shooting death of Ogden police officer Jared Francom at Stewart's Ogden home, 3268 Jackson Ave., in 2012. Five other officers were also shot during the police action involving the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force.
His family has been critical of law enforcement and the judicial system since Stewart's arrest, calling the incident a "tragic misunderstanding." Family members have said Stewart was being "made a scapegoat for violent mistakes and procedures of the police." Stewart told investigators that he thought his home was being invaded and said his military training "just kicked in" when the raid occurred.
In a Facebook post Friday, Stewart's family wrote: "Our son Matthew David Stewart is in the hands of his creator after a long and courageous battle with a corrupt and arrogant judicial system. He was supposed to be considered innocent until he was proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
The family continued with their criticism of the way officers handled the incident.
"Unfortunately this system has become so perverted that those people that are in power are able to lie and justify their actions after purposely violating someone's civil rights and the rights that were supposed to be protected by the Constitution of the United States of America," the family wrote.
"After the illegal assault on his home by a gang of thugs and his inhumane treatment at the Weber County Correctional Institute, along with the recent loss of an unfair and unjust ruling by the court, Matthew gave up hope of his ever getting justice in his case.
"It is another devastation to all of us that comes with the territory in trying to fight the tyranny of a one-sided corrupt system of government where those in power will cover up their mistakes and justify their actions at any cost — even when they know the truth of their deceit will cover it up and protect those who are responsible in an effort to preserve this system that they have created," his family wrote in the post.
Smith responded Friday by saying the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force had information that Stewart had an elaborate operation cultivating marijuana in his basement. Officers had attempted to contact him several times but with no success. A judge eventually authorized a "knock-and-announce" search warrant.
"This is exactly what the Constitution and the Fourth Amendment requires. The officers complied with the law in every respect," Smith said. He added that a judge ruled on Wednesday that the search warrant was "constitutionally sound," which may have been the "unjust ruling" that Stewart's family referred to in their statement.
Smith emphasized that officers were wearing items that identified them as police and made several announcements identifying themselves as they entered. But Stewart's attorney, Randy Richards, said Friday there are "real questions" whether the strike force identified themselves. He said all were wearing Levi's, and some wore black coats and baseball caps.
"None of them were in uniform, so to pretend somehow Matt was able to see them is simply looking the other way from truth," Richards said.
According to Smith, the officers entered Stewart's house about 8:40 p.m. and had cleared all but one room.
As the officers were in the hallway to clear the final room, Stewart unexpectedly started firing from a concealed position, striking Ogden police officer Shawn Grogan in the jaw, Smith said. Grogan sought cover in a nearby bathroom, where he was "trapped." Officer Derek Draper attempted to help but was caught in the hallway.
Smith said that's when Francom came in and provided cover by "engaging in gunfire" for Draper to get Grogan out of the house. Francom's actions, Smith said, saved the lives of his fellow officers.
Francom was shot seven times. Smith dispelled rumors Friday that Francom and others were hit by friendly fire.
"Ballistics have been done," he said. "Every bullet that struck an officer was fired from Mr. Stewart's gun."
As officers attempted to get Francom out of the house, Stewart continued firing.
"The reason six officers were injured is because they went to the aid of agent Francom," Smith said.
The county attorney also said he's heard "a lot of noise" that Stewart didn't know know they were police officers. He said such claims don't hold any water.
"The onus is very clear that he knew who he was shooting at," he said.
Ogden police officer Michael Rounkles, for example, arrived at the home as backup in a full Ogden police uniform.
"Instead of Mathew Stewart saying, 'Thank goodness the police are here to assist me, he immediately put a bullet in officer Rounkles' head," Smith said. "These officers' actions were heroic and they followed the law every step of the way."
Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson said someone checked up on Stewart at least once an hour, 24 hours a day, in his cell. He also noted that since February of 2012, Stewart had rejected all offers from mental health professionals for assistance or counseling.
“To the Francom family, the suicide feels like the admission of guilt we’ve been waiting for,” said Francom’s aunt, Shawna Francom Peterson. “I’m not saying all suicides are an admission of guilt, but this one feels like it.”
She found it ironic that Stewart and his family have argued against the death penalty in court motions and public statements. “Perhaps Matthew’s ideas of what needed to be done weren’t the same as his family had been fighting so hard for,” she said.
Peterson also questioned Stewart’s claims that he didn’t know it was police officers who were raiding his home, especially since he kept firing over and over.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a bunch of police coming into your home, or someone coming in to rob your marijuana grow. When do you stop shooting?” she asked. “He walked through their blood with his bare feet and tracked the officers’ blood through that home to the front door to shoot some more.”
Gabriel Stewart described his brother Friday as a "healer" who "helped multiple people as much as he could." He described once having a gun pointed at him and said he froze.
"For my brother to have multiple guns pulled on him and to fight back illustrates the courage he showed in the military. He stood his ground and fought to protect his own life," he said.
Erna Stewart said she believes her brother-in-law felt he wouldn't get justice in his case, particularly after Wednesday's court hearing, and said he "went out on his own terms." She called him an "herbalist" who wasn't dealing drugs or harming anyone and said home invasion raids in such cases should end. "But because someone called in a tip a cop, all of this changed everybody’s' lives."
"Everybody has their own spin on the whole situation," she said. "Why can't we all just agree that it wasn't just Matthew that made mistakes that night? It was everybody. Everybody had their own little part to play in it and why not just own up to it?"
Francom's father, Jade Francom, said he is pleased that officers won’t have to relive frightening moments from that day at a trial, but said the news of Stewart's death hasn't taken away his family’s pain.
“It’s been really tough, you know. Our family lost our son and brother, and his wife lost her husband and his kids have lost their father,” he said. “The girls — there isn’t a day that goes by that they don’t tell either Grandma and Grandpa, or uncles or their mom how much they miss their daddy. And you know, that’s the rest of their life sentence that they got.”
Contributing: Andrew Adams, Mike Anderson
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