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Man’s attorney challenges SWAT team search

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PROVO — SWAT team members painted a descriptive narrative Friday of a four-hour standoff with an ex-military man while his lawyer argued to suppress evidence gathered during what he called an "illegal search."

Eagle Mountain resident Matthew Paul Graham, 35, a former Utah National Guardsman, stands charged with aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony, stemming from a standoff Jan. 31 with Utah County SWAT. Earlier that morning, Graham got into a fight with then-wife Mindy. Police arrived on scene, and Matthew Graham barricaded himself inside the home with a small arsenal of weapons after Mindy Graham fled with the couple's four children, ages 11 to 2.

Matthew Graham later surrendered to police, and the SWAT team secured his house, police said. Officers later removed guns from the home. However, Matthew Graham's defense attorney Lisa Estrada said that evidence shouldn't be admitted at trial because police didn't obtain a warrant, and Matthew Graham never consented to a search.

"The fact is they entered his home illegally," she said after an evidentiary hearing in 4th District Court.

Prosecutor Doug Finch countered, saying Utah County sheriff's members obtained Mindy Graham's verbal and written permission to remove those items from the house.

"There's consent from the family member ... for them to go into the home to search for the guns and other evidence," he said.

Mindy Graham previously testified Matthew Graham became upset that morning because she refused intimacy. After he grabbed a .45 caliber pistol and a .38 caliber pistol, she became fearful and texted a close friend and her LDS bishop, who alerted authorities.

Utah County Sheriff Det. B.J. Eckles testified Friday he arrived at the home and knocked on the door. Matthew Graham opened the door just enough to expose his head, neck and part of his shoulder. Eckles said he and his partner tried to get Graham out of the house, but he refused. Eckles said his "danger level" heightened as Graham became agitated and refused to tell them what he had in his hands.

"It got to the point where I had to take my gun out of the holster," Eckles said.

Eckles and his partner managed to get Mindy Graham to come to the door. He said she was crying hysterically.

They got Mindy and the four children away from the home, Eckles said. At this point, Mindy Graham told officers Matthew Graham was ex-military and had sniper training.

Matthew Graham served a 16-month tour in Iraq as part of the 1457 Combat Battalion with the Utah National Guard, and developed post-traumatic stress disorder. But there is no record he served as a sniper.

Utah County SWAT team set up a perimeter around the house, and Lt. Walter Perschon, SWAT commander, tried to calm Matthew Graham numerous times on the phone.

"I thought with my military background ... I might be able to relate to Mr. Graham," said Perschon, who served in the U.S. Army.

Matthew Graham made threats against officers during those phone conversations, Perschon said. He talked about finishing second in a sniper competition and said things like, "I can take someone out in a heartbeat at 700 yards."

"I wish I had a recorder going," Perschon said. "I told him, 'Matt, you don't want to be making these statements ... those things will get you in trouble. Let's not go there."'

Matthew Graham told police he'd give himself up if he got a letter signed from a judge stating he wouldn't be charged, said Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Shaun Bufton, a SWAT tactical commander. They delivered one to him via robot. Graham put away his guns, put on his shoes and exited the home at about 3 p.m. Bufton said SWAT members informed Matthew Graham the letter was fake and he was under arrest.

Bufton said SWAT members swept through the home to make sure it was clear of booby traps, explosives or other people. He said the procedure is meant to secure the perimeter, not to search and seize evidence.

"We have people that maybe don't have the training that we have and they don't know what to look for," he said. "We'd be derelict in our duties if we didn't clear the area."

Officers didn't obtain a search warrant, said Lt. Mike Bower, but they obtained written and verbal permission from Mindy Graham to remove firearms from the property. They found several guns, including a .223 AR-15, shotguns, rifles and handguns.

But Estrada said Matthew Graham had a right to refuse a search of his home.

"It's one of our constitutional rights," she said.

Judge Samuel McVey asked the attorneys to submit motions and scheduled a Nov. 3 hearing on oral arguments for suppression.

E-mail: jdana@desnews.com