June 4th, 2013

Who bears the blame for Matthew David Stewart’s death?

The following is an op-ed I had published in this past weekend’s Salt Lake Tribune.


Matthew David Stewart may have hung himself in his prison cell last week, but that does not mean that he alone bears the blame for his premature death. In fact, the government is responsible for putting him in the unfortunate circumstances that led to his desire to escape the grim future that faced him.

Little sympathy exists for the man dubbed by the media as an accused “cop killer.” When members of the Weber Morgan Narcotics Strike Force invaded Stewart’s home using a “knock and announce” warrant, the army veteran was awoken by the sound of breaking glass. Acting on training and instinct, Stewart fought back against the intruders. The ensuing firefight resulted in multiple shots to Stewart, and one officer dying and five others being wounded.

Stewart was not engaged in human trafficking. He was not abusing a family member. He was not plotting to rob a bank or bomb a government building. Instead, the alleged crime for which such a heavy-handed assault was deemed necessary was that he was growing a plant, marijuana, for his own personal consumption.

Whatever your position on the benefits or dangers of using such a substance, it makes little sense to enforce its prohibition with nighttime home invasions by militarized police officers who are ready and willing to shoot to kill. Extreme violence in Stewart’s case was brought to bear against the mere possession of a drug—not homemade explosives, child pornography, or something else that might merit such a response.

In short, the events that led to the shootout with Stewart, Officer Francom’s death, and last week’s suicide were completely unnecessary. Because the government authorized and ordered the home invasion, it bears the blame for the tragic consequences which resulted.

Matthew David Stewart died because Utah’s government criminalizes possession of certain drugs and throws these nonviolent people into cages, rather than treating their drug addictions and confining more coercive punishment only to those who violate another person’s rights.

Matthew David Stewart died because agents in a “Strike Force” appear eager to use their expensive equipment and frequent training in whatever situation that presents itself, rather than employing violent tactics only in the most necessary and exigent of circumstances. The same unit’s killing of Todd Blair the year before adds weight to this claim; officers in Ogden appear to be making the news in all the wrong ways.

Matthew David Stewart died because, as the notorious “cop killer,” the public at large quickly presumed him guilty and few seemed willing to believe that he had actually fired back in self defense. Society’s near deification of police officers meant that Stewart was unlikely to find any sympathy for his side of the story.

Ultimately, Stewart is responsible for taking his own life. But we are all responsible for tolerating, and in many cases praising, the policies and tactics that lead to such situations.

Milton Friedman once said, “Every friend of freedom must be as revolted as I am by the prospect of turning the United States into an armed camp, by the vision of jails filled with casual drug users and of an army of enforcers empowered to invade the liberty of citizens on slight evidence.”

The invasion of Stewart’s home and the subsequent shootout is not unique; paramilitary drug raids occur over 100 times a day throughout America. Otherwise peaceful people are frequently arrested, often imprisoned, and occasionally killed because they chose to ingest a substance prohibited by the state. And sometimes, the agents of the state tasked with using such force are met with resistance.

Neither Officer Francom nor Matthew David Stewart had to die. There were and are much better ways of dealing with drugs—methods that respect and protect the lives of both police officers and alleged drug users. Stewart is not fully responsible for firing back at his intruders and ending his own life last week. The state bears part of the blame.

While we mourn the lives lost on both sides of the “war on drugs,” let’s not minimize their importance by settling for the status quo. Francom’s fatality and Stewart’s suicide should become the foundation of a much needed discussion in Utah to reform prohibition policies and the tactics employed to enforce them.

12 Responses to “Who bears the blame for Matthew David Stewart’s death?”

  1. June 4, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    Well stated, Connor.

  2. June 5, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    I agree.

  3. June 6, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    Exactly right, Connor. We need to realize we have unleased a tiger who sometimes needs restraining and can’t just be allowed to have his way with the villagers.

  4. Josh
    June 14, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    Another thought-provoker. Thanks. Brings to light important facts I had not known about specific case and shines spotlight on frightening trend. Glad to see you get additional audience in Trib.

  5. June 15, 2013 at 2:19 am #

    The assault on Matthew is the equivalent of me as a Mormon raiding my neighbor’s house because he consumes a plant e.g. tea which I am personally morally opposed to partaking.

  6. June 16, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    JPV, Seriously? You are morally opposed to tea (Camellia sinensis)? Its one of the better sources of antioxidents, and is believed to impart longevity and good health to the nation of Japan. It would be interesting to compare LDS japanese to that of tea and matcha consuming japanese. I bet the tea consumers have better health and longevity.

    I suppose it makes as much sense, if one is moral about marijuana and also tea, one would place it on the same level. I don’t know if tea is on the same level for general christian consciousness as marijuana. For whatever reason that never made it on the same list for general christianity.

  7. June 19, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    Connor, I appreciate your well-stated argument. For the first time ever, I’m starting to believe that the police used too much force. The crime didn’t merit the assualt. However, I disagree with you on one major point; I don’t believe that Stewart responded in a manner consistent with self defense. The fact that he was already in a concealed position and advantageous firing point leads me to believe that his actions were pre-meditated. Also, there is the fact that he resoundly told his girlfriend that he would “go out in a blaze of glory” if the cops ever came around is another indication that his actions were pre-meditated.

    Again, I agree that growing pot in your house doesn’t merit a military force, but Stewart is also to blame for this tragedy, and death of a police officer.

  8. June 24, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    J-dub,

    Please consider that Stewart’s actions were not “pre-meditated.”

    Home invasions are becoming more common (at least it seems that way to me, I don’t have statistics). I’ve lived in some places where you could count to hear about a home invasion on the news at least once a week. Smash and grab jobs, typically targeting the elderly, where a group of bad guys, barged into your house, rough you up, and take your stuff. Break-ins were so common that they did not even merit a news story, except when someone ended up getting killed.

    When people receive fire arms training, they are also often taught how to implement safety principles and to practice those principles in scenarios like defending your home. Stewart could have just been executing his general plan for defending his home against an invasion/break-in. Do you know where the most defendable places in your home are? Do you know how to “sweep” your house? Stewart, given his background, probably did.

    This is a result of the over reactive laws and policies. Neither Stewart nor Officer Francom needed to die. It’s a tragedy of the war on drugs. End the war.

  9. June 24, 2013 at 11:09 pm #

    “deification of police officers” – I know, this makes me sick.

  10. July 27, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    Good work. MDS and the unfortunate officers have to be considered casualties of the drug war and our militaristic continuation of the same. The consequences of drug enforcement – the enablement of violent gangs and cartels, social erosion of poor communities through unnecessary jailing, police harassment of harmless citizens and the extra danger visited down upon both citizens and law enforcement as a pure result of the economic illegitimacy of the plant – absolutely dwarf the effects of the drug itself.

  11. August 11, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    The opd and the whole city of Ogden is under attack by the police and the informants they use to track and torture people the deem a threat and do it illegally. They r the real criminals and I am a victim of this still. I was tortured in the Weber county jail and released back into society with no help in no way. Not from the hospitals or nothing. They use confidential informants like Ruben pristine who was just released from federal prison yet can not be found on line no where. Him his friends or family because he is now a paid employee. Of the city to do their dirty work. Look into the opds budget n c how much they spend with Weber state. Look into their false businesses. Like stratus Inc on 27th and Lincoln and c their list of employees r ex cons who work for the city. They use these people to track and torture people mentally and the city Pd r the real criminals. I am looking for lawyers to help me bring these cowards to justice and give them all what they dissever. I have endless evidence that I plan to use against the city and the hospitals they use to hurt people n society. Fuck them we need justice

  12. August 18, 2015 at 9:37 am #

    There are so many things wrong in this situation, I don’t know where to begin. Two men dead over marijuana plants in the basement? A SWAT raid? This is nuts!

    And let’s all take a moment to congratulate the little bitch of an ex-girlfriend who started this ball rolling. Are you proud of yourself now?

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