Hatewatch

Accused Utah Cop-Killer Had Antigovernment Views

A Utah man accused of murdering one police officer and wounding five others developed antigovernment views after being fired as an armed security guard for the IRS, his father told Hatewatch today.

Matthew David Stewart, a 37-year-old decorated Army veteran accused of fatally shooting a police officer in January, previously worked for a private contractor providing security at the IRS Service Center and nine other IRS offices scattered throughout Ogden, Utah, said his father, Michael Stewart.

His son was fired after he was caught accessing a computer network in an IRS building while pulling a graveyard shift, the father said. After a period of unemployment, Matthew Stewart was hired to stock shelves at Wal-Mart, a job he still held on Jan. 4, when members of a Weber County, Utah, drug task force showed up, looking for marijuana plants in his Ogden home.

In an ensuing exchange of gunfire, Matthew Stewart is accused of fatally shooting Ogden police officer Jared Francom, assigned to the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force, and wounding five other officers involved in serving the search warrant. If convicted, Stewart faces a possible death penalty.

Court documents filed in the aggravated murder case allege that Stewart previously made several antigovernment statements to a former girlfriend, enjoyed playing “World of Warcraft” computer games, was intrigued by conspiracies surrounding the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and didn’t believe the Constitution gives the federal government the right to collect taxes.

The girlfriend told investigators that Stewart said if the IRS ever forced him to pay taxes, “he knew how to get into the IRS [buildings] and once inside he would kill IRS employees.” The woman, whose identity is redacted from court documents, now reportedly is in hiding after her identity was divulged on a Facebook page for supporters of Matthew Stewart.

A computer taken from Stewart’s home after the fatal shooting had been used to access antigovernment and anti-police websites, along with information about marijuana manufacturing methods, court documents say.

Michael Stewart told Hatewatch that it was “not fair” to label his son as antigovernment. “I think he had questions about the government; a lot of us do,” including laws that prohibit people from growing, possessing or using marijuana, the father said.

The court documents, quoting the former girlfriend, claim that Matthew Stewart boasted last summer that he would “go out in a blaze of glory and shoot to kill” if anyone interfered with his marijuana growing.

“Everybody can have their own opinions,” the suspect’s father said. “This is a free country. A lot of people didn’t like what happened at Waco, at Oklahoma City. But just because you look at this stuff on the computer, doesn’t make you a terrorist or antigovernment.”

Michael Stewart said he believes his son, who was asleep when he heard breaking glass, initially thought intruders were responsible and grabbed his 9mm handgun.  The drug task force officers, some of them wearing street clothes, kicked in a rear door at 8:40 p.m., after dark, “when they could have arrested him at work,’’ the suspect’s father said.

Court documents also accused Matthew Stewart of possessing child pornography images on his computer and bomb-making components in a closet.

“Not true, either of them,” the father said. “What they’re saying was a ‘bomb’ was part of a costume. My son dressed up as Osama bin Laden on Halloween. That’s all that was.  They’re trying to demonize him with hearsay in these court papers because of what a lot of people think was a botched arrest over a little pot.”

Supporters who have put up a Facebook page and web site believe the case points to the need for local police agencies to lower the priority given to marijuana possession cases. Michael Stewart said supporters, including friends his son knew at the IRS, will hold a rally April 12 at the Weber County Library.

Members of the same drug task force fatally shot suspected drug dealer Todd E. Blair in September 2010 in nearby Roy, Utah, and that case also generated community discussion, Michael Stewart said.

“We’re not trying to get Matthew to be a ‘poster boy’ for the legalization of drugs,’’ his father said. “What we’re trying to do is get local law enforcement to look at their enforcement priorities.”

Michael Stewart said his son was growing a few marijuana plants for his own use, had never had been arrested for selling drugs, and had no criminal record. “He was turned in by an old girlfriend because he was growing pot — self-medicating for anxiety and depression. Now, look where this got us.”