Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How Clemmons Went From Prisoner To Alleged Cop Killer -- And Why It Matters For Mike Huckabee

Washington Police Killings
How Clemmons Went From Prisoner To Alleged Cop Killer -- And Why It Matters For Mike Huckabee
Justin Elliott | November 30, 2009, 5:17PM

Seattle Police search for Maurice Clemmons 11/29/09; Clemmons and Mike Huckabee (inset).

How did Maurice Clemmons, once sentenced to 100 years in prison in Arkansas, end up a free man and the prime suspect in the grisly killing of four Seattle area police officers Sunday?

Clemmons' story begins with a teenage crime spree, winds through his years as a young man spent behind bars and the commutation of his life sentence by Mike Huckabee, continues with more years in and out of prison and the degeneration of his mental state, and finally leaves off today with a massive search for a man police describe as armed and dangerous.

The story carries potentially big political ramifications for possible presidential contender Huckabee, who is now trying to deflect criticism of the commutation to the state parole board. That's in part because Huckabee's effort to downplay his role in the Clemmons commutation echoes his response in the case of another Arkansas parolee who went on to commit a gruesome crime.

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Topics: Maurice Clemmons, Mike Huckabee, Pardons, Washington Police Killings
Washington Police Killings
Huckabee Cites System's 'Failures' In Response To Washington Police Killings
Justin Elliott | November 30, 2009, 9:53AM

Mike Huckabee and Maurice Clemmons (inset).
Mike Huckabee has responded to the killing of four police officers in Washington State by saying that if the suspect in the case -- a man whose sentence Huckabee commuted in 2000 -- is found responsible, "it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington State."

Huckabee's statement, posted late last night on the Web site of his PAC, downplays any agency on the governor's part in commuting the 95-year prison sentence of Maurice Clemmons, who had been convicted of aggravated robbery.

As Josh noted on the editors blog, Huckabee previously faced another controversy about a prisoner who won parole, Wayne Dumond.

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clemmons on TWITTER???

Maurice Clemmons on Twitter: Is This Real?
Posted by Dominic Holden on Mon, Nov 30, 2009 at 1:03 PM
Here's a brief (religious) stint on Twitter by someone posting as Maurice Clemmons this summer:

Can you fake the dates of a Twitter post?

Law-enforcement officials believe Clemmons has been sheltered by family, friends

Law-enforcement officials believe Clemmons has been sheltered by family, friends
Detectives have detained several of Clemmons' friends, family members and acquaintances — and could arrest and book many of them into jail for helping Clemmons elude capture, Troyer said. On Monday night, the Sheriff's Office launched a series of tactical operations targeting the homes of relatives and friends believed to be helping Clemmons, Troyer said.

By Sara Jean Green and Christine Clarridge

Seattle Times staff reporters

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Lakewood police officers become emotional at a press conference Monday. Four fellow officers were shot to death Sunday as they sat in a coffee shop.

Seattle police SWAT members leave a house in the Leschi neighborhood Monday after finding no sign of suspect Maurice Clemmons.

An officer wearing a gas mask exits the East Superior Street home in Seattle's Leschi neighborhood. Police staked out the home all night.

The flash from the muzzle of a device used to flush out a suspect is employed in a search for Clemmons after an hourslong standoff late Sunday and early Monday in the Leschi neighborhood. No one was found inside the home, and the hunt continues for the suspect in the slayings of four officers.

Schoolchildren peer out of a school bus as a police officer explains that their grade school is closed.

Members of the Seattle Police Department search Rizal Park, between 12th Avenue South and Interstate 5. Several operations to locate Clemmons on Monday came up empty.

Seattle police officers and an agent from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) search the Leschi neighborhood along Lake Washington Boulevard.

University of Washington and Seattle police officers cross 15th Avenue Northeast after a futile search for Clemmons in Cowen Park. The park and some neighborhood streets were closed temporarily.
PARKLAND, Pierce County — Maurice Clemmons is likely desperate: He is believed to be armed, but he's running out of friends to help him stay ahead of police. And the gunshot wound to his gut probably hasn't stopped bleeding.

"It's unfortunate he's been a step or two ahead of us," Pierce County sheriff's Detective Ed Troyer said Monday, nearly 36 hours after Clemmons is accused of executing four Lakewood police officers in a Parkland coffee shop.

But, Troyer said, the number of people willing to help him is dwindling fast.

Detectives have detained several of Clemmons' friends, family members and acquaintances — and could arrest and book many of them into jail for helping Clemmons elude capture, Troyer said. On Monday night, the Sheriff's Office launched a series of tactical operations targeting the homes of relatives and friends believed to be helping Clemmons, Troyer said.

He said police are going after anybody and everybody who is suspected of aiding and abetting Clemmons. He said they are conducting operations in several cities and at several sites.

"We think his network is running out," Troyer said.

Not only that, but eyewitnesses have confirmed that Clemmons was wounded in the shootings and that his wound was bleeding, Troyer said. Blood was found in Clemmons' white Chevrolet pickup, found abandoned in the parking lot of a Parkland grocery Sunday.

Medics and doctors who have consulted with police say an untreated gunshot wound can change dramatically in a day or two — either through blood loss or infection, Troyer said.

Every hospital in King, Pierce, Thurston and Snohomish counties has been told to contact police if a patient shows up for treatment of a gunshot wound.

But Clemmons, 37, remains a dangerous threat to police: Detectives have learned he has access to any number of weapons, including long guns, rifles, shotguns and handguns, Troyer said. He declined to elaborate.

"He's armed, he's wounded and he knows there are warrants for four counts of murder" that have been issued for his arrest, Troyer said of Clemmons.

Hundreds of tips

Since the ambush slayings of the four officers as they sat doing paperwork at a Forza Coffee Company store before starting their shifts Sunday morning, hundreds of tips have poured in from the public. After weeding out the crackpots and hoaxes, detectives actively are filtering through more than 350 tips, Troyer said.

Acquaintances of Clemmons also have told police that he told them Saturday night that "he was going to take out a group of cops," telling them to "watch the news," but they "wrote it off as crazy talk," Troyer said.

Investigators have faced plenty of frustration, disappointment and delay in their hunt for the gunman. One man called 911 Sunday and said he was the shooter — a bogus claim. Another man called his girlfriend and relatives, also claiming responsibility and asking for help to get out of the woods where he said he was hiding.

That man was booked into the Pierce County Jail early Monday on investigation of obstructing police. Lt. Dave McDonald of the Puyallup Police Department, acting as a law-enforcement spokesman, said that hoax cost investigators precious time and resources.

There was more frustration Monday as various tips and sightings in and around Seattle turned into dead ends: blood in a phone booth in Ravenna. Bloody gauze found in the middle of the street in the Chinatown International District. Police also searched Monday for a possible getaway car that reportedly belonged to Clemmons' wife, only to learn the vehicle had been sold two months ago. A Metro bus driver thought he had spotted Clemmons on a route in the University District, prompting officers to swarm the University of Washington campus.

Late Monday afternoon, Renton police, members of the Pierce County sheriff's SWAT unit and other officers surrounded a house in the 13000 block of Renton Avenue South. Though Clemmons wasn't in the house, officers questioned some of his relatives, according to a law-enforcement source. That relative also is suspected of helping Clemmons dodge arrest, the source said.

The search of the Renton house was the fourth tactical operation conducted by police Monday, Troyer said. Authorities were executing several search warrants, he said. He did not elaborate on the other operations.

Officers from agencies across Pierce and King counties — including members of two federal task forces — have gone to hundreds of locations, looking for that one tip that pans out, McDonald said. "We have to do it because one of them is going to turn out to be key," he said.

Close to Clemmons

Seattle police seemingly were close to capturing Clemmons on Sunday night as they surrounded his aunt's house in Leschi. Police have confirmed he showed up at the house on a dead-end street on a hill above Lake Washington — but Troyer said he suspects Clemmons saw officers rounding up people who had helped him get roughly 40 miles north of the crime scene and slipped away before the area could be contained.

"It was unlucky for us, lucky for him. But his luck is about to run out," Troyer said.

Clemmons has a lengthy criminal history, including at least five felony convictions in Arkansas and at least eight felony charges in Washington. He was granted clemency by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee nine years ago over the protests of prosecutors. More recently, the ex-con was released from the Pierce County Jail last week, even though he faced eight felony charges, including a child-rape charge that carries a possible life sentence.

By 6 p.m. Monday, sheriff's officials had reopened Steele Street South and moved the flowers, balloons and stuffed animals that had been left at a nearby gas station and reassembled the memorial outside the Forza Coffee Company store where the four officers had been fatally shot.

Killed were Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39; and officers Ronald "Ronnie" Owens, 37; Tina Griswold, 40; and Gregory Richards, 42.

How crime unfolded

According to police and witnesses, the three officers and their sergeant — members of the same Lakewood patrol unit — were seated inside the coffee shop Sunday morning, their marked patrol cars parked outside.

Around 8:15 a.m., a man who has been identified as Clemmons walked into the cafe, passing the officers and a handful of customers to stand at the counter. A barista asked for his order, but he just stared at her. He opened his coat, and the barista, a woman in her early 20s, spotted a gun in his waistband. She grabbed her co-worker and ran out the back door as the man opened fire.

Two of the four officers didn't have time to react and were "flat-out executed," Troyer said Sunday. One officer was able to stand before being shot and falling to the ground. The fourth officer fought with the shooter, struggling with him and squeezing off a few rounds from his service weapon before that officer also was shot and killed.

Clemmons apparently dropped one handgun during the fight with the officer. The handgun was found by investigators on the floor inside the coffee shop, leading investigators to conclude that Clemmons was armed with more than one weapon, according to McDonald of the Puyallup department.

All four officers — regulars at the coffee shop — were in uniform and wearing bulletproof vests.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Information from Seattle Times staff reporter Charles E. Brown and Times archives is included in this report