At 8:40 p.m. on Wednesday, January 3, 2012, members of the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force in Ogden, Utah conducted a “knock and enter” warrant on the home of 37 year-old army veteran Matthew David Stewart. According to reports, they knocked and no one answered. When they forcefully entered his home in paramilitary style gear, with guns drawn, they encountered gunfire. When it was all said and done, one member of the task force was fatally injured, five members were wounded, Stewart was injured and faces likely charges of aggravated murder (which carries the death penalty) and multiple counts of attempted aggravated murder.
According to DEA Special Agent in Charge Frank Smith, the victims and other agents involved in this operation are heroes, and they were “protecting the public.” I tend to agree with Agent Smith, members of the task force are heroes, but in this instance, they certainly were not protecting the public.
The only public reports about why Stewart was raided indicate that Stewart had a personal, indoor marijuana grow for medical reasons. It’s been reported that Stewart suffers from PTSD and grew a small amount of marijuana to self-medicate. In addition, it has been speculated that the reason why Stewart failed to answer the knock is because he was asleep at the time. He worked the midnight shift and would typically be asleep at the time the raid was conducted.
So, it seems an army veteran who suffers from PTSD was suddenly awoken to armor-clad armed men in his home and he allegedly opened fire. The army vet now likely faces the death penalty. One officer is dead. Five wounded. Countless lives have been ruined.
I’d like Agent Smith to explain to Stewart exactly why he was a threat to the public. There has been no allegation that Steward sold marijuana, or gave it away to kids, or that he was a danger to anyone before the paramilitary-style raid on his house. In fact, his neighbors were shocked to learn that there was any drug activity in the area, dispelling the notion that Stewart was an immediate threat to anyone. Without making a fuss and without causing problems in his neighborhood, Stewart simply grew marijuana for personal medical reasons.
I’d also like Agent Smith to explain to Officer Francom’s family why Stewart’s personal medical grow warranted the over-the-top means of enforcement that has been linked to so many needless deaths and injuries.
Finally, I’d like Agent Smith to explain to everyone why — as he stated to Fox 13 News — this situation isn’t a legalization issue? Clearly, the officers involved were just doing their job. They were enforcing enacted laws that their superiors wanted enforced. However, if marijuana were legal, this and numerous other prohibition-related deaths, including the death of another Utah man at the hands of this very same task force, would never have happened.
So long as marijuana remains a law enforcement issue as opposed to a public health issue, we’ll keep seeing tragic stories like these. Officers and civilians shot, and often times killed, over a naturally occurring plant that is safer than alcohol. It’s sad and it’s sickening, and it’s about time that we finally rethink our nation’s devastating marijuana prohibition.