Monday, November 30, 2009

Suspect In Washington Cop Killings Surrounded; UPDATE: Or Not

Maurice Clemmons is no longer just a person of interest in the murder of four Lakeland, Washington police officers. He's the main suspect and his home in Seattle has been surrounded by police. The police think he may be injured or even dead as hostage negotiators are thus far unable to contact Clemmons.
Clemmons is believed to be in the Leschi house that police have surrounded in Seattle since late Sunday night.

"He has suffered a gunshot wound," Troyer said at a media briefing held just before 3 a.m.

Police know that Clemmons was wounded because they have detained other people — Troyer wouldn't say how many — who helped Clemmons after the shootings.

At the briefing, Troyer said police now consider Clemmons a suspect, rather than merely a "person of interest."

Police don't know the severity of Clemmons' wound, and Troyer said he may already be dead.

Investigators have no indication that Clemmons had a motive aimed specifically at any of the particular officers who were gunned down, Troyer said.

"He was upset about being incarcerated," Troyer said. "He was just targeting cops."
So, how did we get here?

To recap, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee granted Clemmons clemency despite protestations by prosecutors. That allowed Clemmons to leave prison in 2000 despite having been sentenced to a 48 year prison sentence and a separate 60 year sentence. Instead of using the opportunity of Huckabee's clemency to get a fresh start and make a new and better life, Clemmons became a one man crime spree in Arkansas and Washington State. He threatened a judge in one of his trials, and Washington classified him as someone who was highly likely to reoffend (in other words, he would likely restart his criminal activities even with supervision).

Clemmons has at least five felony convictions in Arkansas and at least eight felony charges in Washington. Even after the commutation of his sentence, he was sent back to prison for two armed robberies, and yet he was paroled.

In fact, Clemmons was somehow managed to secure bail on the latest of those Washington charges just this past week; a child rape and before that, he assaulted a cop.

Why did no judge at any step of the way recognize the imminent danger that Clemmons posed to the general public and order him held without bail? Why did anyone think that Clemmons would not be a menace to the public despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Despite his lengthy record of violence and the danger he posed to the public, Huckabee granted clemency and Washington and Arkansas officials had no problem granting him parole on other charges and even granting him bail on a child rape charge. He was accused of raping and molesting a 12-year old relative.

As a condition of that bail on the child rape charge, Clemmons was supposed to wear a GPS ankle bracelet, but law enforcement found his during a search of his wife's home.

Police have set up a memorial fund for the four officers murdered by Clemmons; Mark Renninger, Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards.

All these events would not have occurred but for Huckabee granting clemency, and thus far the reasons proffered do little to justify the clemency; Huckabee reportedly claimed that he commuted the sentence because Clemmons was 17 at the time of the first crimes in Arkansas. Sorry, but that doesn't cut it. The nature of the crimes, and the fact that the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld his conviction (Clemmons contested that he didn't receive adequate representation at court), brings Huckabee's judgment into question once again.

After all, this was hardly the first time someone whose sentence was reduced by Huckabee went on to commit more crimes.

Reports suggesting that Clemmons was surrounded by police at his home appear to have been wrong. Police were indeed outside his home, but he wasn't there.
The News Tribune of Tacoma quoted Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff's Office, as saying a search of the Leschi home turned up a weapon but not the suspect, Maurice Clemmons.

Clemmons is on the run, Troyer said. The Leschi neighborhood remains on lockdown. Nearby Leschi Elementary School is closed.

A murder warrant has been issued for Clemmons.

Troyer said Clemmons was shot and wounded in a Lakewood coffee shop where the officers were killed.

Clemmons - a man with an extensive criminal history in Washington and Arkansas - was the suspect in the Sunday morning shootings of four Lakewood Police officers, who were gunned down as they worked on their laptops, Troyer said.

About an hour before Troyer's early Monday briefing observers believed tear gas was shot into a structure by a Leschi home, which was described as a trailer. Police set up a command center hours earlier near the home at East Yesler Way and 32nd Street, just blocks from where a Seattle police officer was shot and killed last month.
Huckabee's political action committee released a statement, blaming everyone but himself for the decision to commute Clemmons' sentence.
Should he be found to be responsible for this horrible tragedy, it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington State. He was recommended for and received a commutation of his original sentence from 1990, this commutation made him parole eligible and he was then paroled by the parole board once they determined he met the conditions at that time. He was arrested later for parole violation and taken back to prison to serve his full term, but prosecutors dropped the charges that would have held him. It appears that he has continued to have a string of criminal and psychotic behavior but was not kept incarcerated by either state. This is a horrible and tragic event and if found and convicted the offender should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Our thoughts and prayers are and should be with the families of those honorable, brave, and heroic police officers.
Who exactly recommended his parole, and why wasn't the concerns of the prosecutors taken into account? Huckabee is right that there were others who deserve blame, but his initial action to commute the sentence must be reexamined in detail.

The Seattle Times reports that police are looking for a green '97 Mazda Millenia w/ WA license plate 208-SSX. It's registered to Clemmons' wife. He may be attempting to flee the state and head back to Arkansas but police are also responding to a report that blood was found at Cowen Park in Ravenna.

More details are emerging about Huckabee's commutation of Clemmons' sentence, including the fact that Clemmons claimed he was a changed man - that he found religion.
"I succumbed to the peer pressure and the need I had to be accepted by other youth in my new environment and fell in with the wrong crowd and thus began a seven (7) month crime spree which led me to prison," Clemmons wrote in his application to Huckabee.

Clemmons said he came from "a very good Christian family" and "was raised much better than my actions speak (I'm still ashamed to this day for the shame my stupid involvement in these crimes brought to my family name.)," he wrote.

"Where once stood a young (16) year old misguided fool, who's (sic) own life he was unable to rule. Now stands a 27 year old man, who has learned through 'the school of hard knocks' to appreciate and respect the rights of others. And who has in the midst of the harsh reality of prison life developed the necessary skills to stand along (sic) and not follow a multitude of do evil, as I did as a 16 year old child."

Clemmons added that his mother had recently died without seeing him turn his life around and that he prayed Huckabee would show compassion by releasing him.

The documents indicate Clemmons' release from prison was supported by Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Marion Humphrey, who cited Clemmons' age at the time of his crimes and called his sentence excessive. His release was unanimously approved by the parole board.
Humphrey also apparently married Clemmons to Nicole Cheryleen Smith in 2004.

Huckabee fell for this, despite the harsh nature of the crimes he committed and the lengthy prison sentences handed down and affirmed by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Then, there's the crimes he committed immediately after his release from prison the first time:
Clemmons was released from prison in August 2000, said Dina Tyler, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

He was sent back to prison on a parole violation — a robbery charge — in July 2001, according to Tyler.

He received a 10-year sentence, Tyler said, but records show he was paroled in March 2004. He was to remain on parole until 2021.

Clemmons moved to Washington state while still on parole. He spent the past several months in jail on a child-rape charge but was released last week after posting a $15,000 bond. His release here came despite seven other pending felony charges, according to court records.
He didn't even make it a year before being sent back to prison. Yet, he was granted parole for a 10 year sentence just three years later.

Why did Arkansas withdraw a no-bail provision that would have kept Clemmons in Washington custody while he was pending trial?
Arrested on July 1 after he came to Pierce County Superior Court, Clemmons was initially held on a no-bail warrant out of Arkansas filed after he was charged with assault and malicious mischief case in relation to the May incident. In Pierce County, Clemmons' bail amounted to $190,000 in the cases against him, which by early July included a second-degree child rape charge.

On parole for various felony convictions in Arkansas, authorities claim Clemmons violated the conditions of his release during the May incident when he allegedly punched a police officer, broke several windows and hit an elderly man in the head with a rock. The allegations that followed -- that he raped the then-12-year-old daughter of an acquaintance -- would also have placed him in violation.

Speaking Monday, Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said Arkansas withdrew the no-bail hold on July 22, ultimately enabling Clemmons to post the $190,000 bail and gain his release from custody.

Lindquist acknowledged that prosecutors in Pierce County did not request that Clemmons' bail amount be increased after the no-bail hold was dropped. They did, however, argue successfully against a reduction proposed by Clemmons' attorney.

"Typically, that amount would be enough to hold a defendant," Lindquist said at his office. "This would all be a moot point if the no-bail hold was still in effect."

In the weeks that followed the removal of the no-bail hold, Clemmons was able to put together a bond payment and secure his release on Nov. 23. Days before his release, prosecutors had filed paperwork indicating they would seek a life-sentence against Clemmons under Washington's "three-strikes" law targeting persistent offenders.

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