Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

The Matthew Stewart Case

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Matthew Stewart is a young man who seemingly has grown some pot plants at some time at his tiny house and home in the city of Ogden in the state of Utah. Some police officers got wind of this and some days, or perhaps months, later raided his modest home. The police found some growing equipment, although it is unclear at this point whether they found any pot. During the raid, police put a couple bullets in Stewart, Stewart’s doctors won’t tell him how many. If this is all one knew about the Stewart case, one would probably suspect that a civil suit against the police, along with its inevitable qi claim by police, was imminent.

However, things on the civil suit front are not very clear at all in the Stewart case because he used a handgun to shoot at the police officers during the raid. About this part, the police say that they made announcements and knocked prior to entering Stewart’s house and that Stewart responded by going into a hiding place with his gun, later springing out at the police officers and shooting at them even as they slowly retreated from Stewart’s house. Police claim that 6 police officers made the initial entry, 6 additional police officers were called in to participate after the shooting started and that of these involved officers, 5 were injured (presumably all shot), 1 fatal. In an interesting, if macabre, twist, the police officer who died, Jared Francom, had helped video record an earlier raid, which video recording became something of a YouTube hit because it showed the police raid team shooting a groggy man with a golf club to death. The police have not said how many of the police officers that they believe to have been shot by Stewart versus how many were shot friendly fire (if any).

Now, about a month after the raid, Stewart has spoken to the media, as is described in a Salt Lake City Tribune interview and article:

Matthew David Stewart, 37, said he never heard officers identify themselves or announce they were at his home to serve a search warrant. Stewart, in an interview Friday at the Weber County Jail, said his alarm clock woke him, then he heard a crash that sounded like glass breaking. “Some parts I remember vividly . . . Other parts it was like I was running on instinct . . . When you’re convinced that you are getting robbed and most likely killed by a group of armed men, your instincts kick in.” Stewart declined to answer some questions, including whether he was growing marijuana in his home on Jackson Avenue, as the strike force was investigating. Stewart did say he believes marijuana should be legal. Stewart said he “had no idea” he was under investigation by the strike force. He worked a night shift at the Walmart in Riverdale and was asleep as the strike force arrived between 8 and 8:30 p.m. Although Stewart said he didn’t hear officers announce themselves, he didn’t answer whether he had some indication police officers had entered his home.

“I didn’t know,” he said. “All I knew for sure is they were there to rob and kill me.” Stewart served in the U.S. Army. He saw no combat but said the training was meant to be “like the real thing.” On Friday, he said he also worked nine years as armed security for the Internal Revenue Service. Stewart said he has not been diagnosed with any disorders as a result of his service, though on Friday he said he felt the Army and security stints changed him. He did not elaborate.

When asked whether he applied his military and security training the night of the shooting, Stewart replied: “It makes sense.” As for Francom and the injured officers, Stewart said: “I’m totally devastated that anybody had to suffer over any of this. This never should have happened.” Stewart thinks two bullets struck him during the shootout, but he isn’t sure. He said he can’t tell what are entrance and exit wounds and he had difficulty getting answers from his doctors and nurses at the hospital where he remained until Monday. . . “I’m still having a lot of trouble dealing with the colostomy,” Stewart said. “It’s a big psychological blow, but it’s also real difficult in here.” . . . Another bullet struck Stewart in his left leg and damaged nerves there. Stewart said he can’t stand in one place long without “blinding pain” in the leg. “I’ve always been a big fan of the truth,” Stewart said. “It’s tough for me to stay silent on some issues.”

Matthew Stewart throwing in the details about the alarm clock and the breaking glass was telling to me. That kind of detail has the sound of someone telling the truth. The fact that they won’t give him a straight answer about how many bullets went into his own body is also sympathetic. Lawyers can debate whether Mr. Stewart should be talking at all, but, in my opinion, Stewart did an impressive job laying out his case. It contrasts starkly with the police evasions (won’t release search warrant), failure to address obvious issues (like friendly fire) and nonsense (like blowing up Stewart’s closet for no apparent good reason).

Maybe there will be a civil suit after all.

Written by Burgers Allday

February 7, 2012 at 7:20 am

One Response

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  1. the police are out of control….our constitution was written to protect the people from just such actions by government thugs. anyone busts down my door will be greeted with a hail of 7.62×51.


    February 10, 2012 at 6:11 pm

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