OGDEN — The sister-in-law of a man who faces capital murder charges for allegedly killing a police officer and wounding five others insists he is a victim, too, and a "prisoner of war" in a war on drugs.
Matthew David Stewart's sister-in-law, Erna Stewart, said she believes he would not have knowingly fired at police officers, explaining that "a lot of things went wrong" that night.
"It's my brother," she said. "I know Matthew. I know who he is. I'll stand by him 100 percent."
Stewart is charged with killing Ogden police officer Jared Francom and injuring five other officers from the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force who attempted to serve a drug-related search warrant at Stewart's Ogden home on Jan. 4. Stewart was also hit and wounded during the shootout.
After announcing their presence, police said they were able to clear the main floor and basement of the home before Stewart emerged and allegedly opened fire. Investigators later found a marijuana grow operation in the basement, including artificial lighting and a water system.
"There is a war on drugs," Erna Stewart said. "It's not necessarily a war that people know is happening. He's a prisoner of war. ... We feel that he's a victim as well as the officers."
She and other family members have led rallies and press conferences to raise funds for his defense and call attention to the military-like operations such strike forces use in a drug war that "breeds a culture of violence and aggression within our law enforcement agencies." Another rally is planned for Friday.
A preliminary hearing was scheduled Monday for July 18. Defense attorney Randall Richards had previously filed a request to hire a private investigator for the defense. On Monday, he asked 2nd District Judge Noel Hyde to close a hearing about that issue to the public. Noel agreed to hear arguments about closing that hearing on May 22.
Monday's hearing also focused on notes taken by officers on the night of the shooting that defense attorneys want to be preserved.
Erna Stewart said she is able to speak to her brother-in-law through letters and a video camera at the jail, but she doesn't talk to him about what happened the night of the shootings.
She hopes policies on "home-style raids" will change, in part for the safety of officers and their families.
"We are focusing again on raising public awareness for the harm that home-invasion style raids cause in a community for our officers we have to send into these environments that they do not know the circumstances they are going into," Erna Stewart said.
She emphasized that her support for her Matthew Stewart is not meant to downplay the pain faced by the officers and their families.
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