Ogden City Council • Critics say out-of-control warrant process is scary.
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Ogden • The City Council here got an earful about recent night-time warrants served by its police department and the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force, with many describing the police agencies as rogue and out of control.
More than a dozen critics from Ogden and elsewhere in the state spoke up Tuesday night. The often emotional pleas from the commenters repeatedly pointed to specific cases in Weber County where people were harmed or killed because of what they saw as overly aggressive tactics against people suspected of non-violent crimes.
Eric Hill was the subject of a botched search warrant served by Ogden police in December when officers came to his door at 2:30 a.m. with guns drawn, mistaking him for the wrong person.
Hill said the incident, in which he said he was handcuffed and his wife, Melanie, had a gun pointed in her face before police realized the mistake, has left his 4- and 10-year-old daughters traumatized. The 28-year-old electrician said that although he appreciated the apologies offered by police through newspaper articles, they were "a bit too late."
"The damage is done, the long-term effect on my children who knows what it's going to be," Hill said to the council.
Melanie Hill said she and her family had moved to Ogden, Eric's hometown, just six months before the warrant incident.
"I want to raise my kids in a safe environment, and to be victimized by the same people that you felt should have your back is horrific," she said.
"I know mistakes happen, but I have a 4-year-old and 10-year-old daughter, and they're traumatized."
Council members, who didn't offer any comment about the police issue, also heard from the family of Matthew David Stewart, an Ogden man who is on trial for the murder of Officer Jared Francom, a Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force agent who was killed in a shootout that ensued after officers served a "knock-and-announce" warrant on Stewart's residence on the night of Jan. 4, 2012. Stewart has since contended that he shot at the officers because he didn't know that the people storming his home after 8 p.m. that night were police. The U.S. Army veteran was suspected of growing marijuana plants in his home.
"It is not OK to bang on someone's door in the dark of night," said Sonja Stewart, Matthew David Stewart's mother. She blamed "sloppy investigations" by police for tragedies like the one that happened in her son's home.
"When government pushes too hard, the people push back," she said.
Michael Stewart, Matthew David Stewart's father, said his family has been "decimated" by what happened that night.
"We're still going through a lot of pain because of what happened to our son," he said. "We need the police, but we need police that are not so quick to use their weapons."
Some people urged the council to do away with serving the night-time warrants and to have the Ogden Police Department withdraw from the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force.
Matthew Stewart's brother-in-law, Jared Hone, said he was worried about the police in Ogden "running rogue," but also doubted that the council could or would do anything about it.
"I don't believe you have the power to change anything," he said. "As a father, I'm scared to defend my home now, because if the cops see me with anything in my hands, I could be shot."
The turnout at the council meeting was spurred in part by the Salt Lake City-based group, the Utah Liberty Institute, which took to Facebook in the days before the meeting to encourage people to attend and speak out. A handful of people who spoke drove up from Salt Lake, criticizing local police not only about the Eric Hill and Matthew David Stewart incidents, but about a 2010 case in Roy in which agents from the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Task Force shot and killed Todd Blair after they came inside a home on a "no-knock" drug-related warrant. Helmet-mounted camera footage of the shooting shows police gunning down Blair after he came out of a bedroom with a golf club raised over his head.
Patrick Powers, the president of the Utah Liberty Institute, told the council that these cases are making people afraid to defend their homes in the middle of the night.
"If someone comes to an individual's home at 2:30 in the morning, the reasonable thing to do … is to grab the nearest object, preferably a loaded gun," Powers said at the meeting. "Two-thirty in the morning is not the time that gentlemen come to knock."
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said he appreciated hearing from those who spoke Tuesday night and said his office was having the police investigate the Eric Hill incident. In an interview the day before the meeting, Caldwell said his office had no direct authority over the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force and would not direct any investigation into the Stewart or Blair cases, which both involved the strike force.
"I, too, am the father of young daughters, and we take this very seriously," Caldwell said. "Nobody wants to see these things happen."
Outside the chambers, Eric and Melanie Hill said they doubted city officials would take any action on their concerns.
"I feel like it was false," Eric Hill said of Caldwell's comments. "I'm confident it's not going to change."