December 1, 2009 in Nation/World

Suspect in officer killings eludes law on West Side

Police believe Clemmons was shot in abdomen
Gene Johnson Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Associated Press Members of the Pierce County sheriff’s dive team search a pond Monday at the Willows Apartments in Parkland, near the coffee shop where four Lakewood police officers were fatally shot Sunday.
(Full-size photo)

SEATTLE – Authorities believe the man sought in the slaying of four police officers is still alive and has been aided by a network of friends and family, a police spokesman said Monday night.

Officers surrounded a house in the Seattle suburb of Renton on Monday evening, the second time in two days police had circled a home in their search for suspect Maurice Clemmons. Police questioned residents who may have aided the suspect since the Sunday morning shootings, Pierce County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Ed Troyer said.

Officers believe Clemmons was shot in the abdomen during the attack on the officers at a Parkland coffee shop. The 37-year-old may have received medical help and money from friends or family, Troyer said. And police believe some of those questioned have misled investigators to help Clemmons remain at large, he said.

Police are certain Clemmons was in a Seattle house on Sunday night, but he was able to flee before police could contain the area. Police staked out that house overnight before SWAT team members determined early Monday that Clemmons wasn’t there.

Clemmons has had access to handguns, rifles and shotguns, Troyer said. “It’s unfortunate he’s been a step or two ahead of us.”

Monday morning’s realization that the suspect had not been cornered after all prompted police to fan out across the city, looking for any sign of Clemmons. Authorities posted a $125,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

The manhunt came as authorities in two states took heat for the fact that Clemmons was allowed to walk the streets despite a teenage crime spree in Arkansas that landed him a 108-year prison sentence. He was released early after then-Gov. Mike Huckabee commuted his sentence.

“This guy should have never been on the street,” said Brian D. Wurts, president of the police union in Lakewood, where all four slain officers worked. “Our elected officials need to find out why these people are out.”

Police said they are not sure what prompted Clemmons to assassinate the officers as they worked on their laptop computers at the beginning of their shifts. He was described as increasingly erratic in the past few months, and he had been arrested earlier this year on charges that he punched a sheriff’s deputy in the face.

Troyer told the Tacoma News-Tribune that Clemmons indicated the night before the shooting “that he was going to shoot police and watch the news.”

Authorities said the gunman singled out the officers and spared employees and other customers at the coffee shop in a suburb about 35 miles south of Seattle. He fled, but not before he was apparently shot in the torso by one of the dying officers.

Police later learned he may have been holed up at the house in Seattle. After an all-night siege in which they tried to get him out using loudspeakers, explosions and a robot sent into the house, a SWAT team stormed the place and discovered he was not there.

Police spent the rest of the day chasing leads, visiting hundreds of locations as they followed up on tips, at one point cordoning off a park where people thought they saw Clemmons. They also alerted hospitals to be on the lookout for a man seeking treatment for gunshot wounds.

University of Washington officials alerted students by e-mail and text messages to an unconfirmed report that Clemmons might have gotten off a bus on or near the campus.

Investigators also examined the coffee shop for clues. Sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Dave McDonald said that authorities found a handgun carried by the killer, along with a pickup truck belonging to the suspect with blood stains inside.

Killed were Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39, and Officers Ronald Owens, 37, Tina Griswold, 40, and Greg Richards, 42.

Clemmons has an extensive violent criminal history from Arkansas.

On Sunday, Huckabee issued this statement on his Web site: “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.”

In seeking leniency from Huckabee, Clemmons wrote the parole board that he was a “misguided fool” when he committed the crimes and “learned through the school of hard knocks to appreciate and respect the rights of others.”

Huckabee cited Clemmons’ youth in granting the request. But Clemmons quickly reverted to his criminal past, violated his parole and was returned to prison. He was released again in 2004.

Clemmons was charged in Washington state earlier this year with assaulting a police officer and raping a child, and investigators in the sex case said he was motivated by visions that he was Jesus Christ and that the world was on the verge of the apocalypse. But he was released from jail after posting bail with the assistance of Jail Sucks Bail Bonds.

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