December 3, 2009 in Region

Aunt went to police when Clemmons called her

Nicole Brodeur The Seattle Times
 

SEATTLE — “I am coming to your house,” he said. “I have killed four policemen and I need a place to rest and hide.”

We know now who that was: Maurice Clemmons, the man who ambushed four Lakewood police officers Sunday morning, killing them all.

But to Chrisceda Clemmons, 45, the voice on the phone Sunday night belonged to her nephew Maurice. Her sister Dorothy Mae’s son. The kid she used to baby-sit back home in Arkansas. The man who seemed determined to succeed, but who had also started to lose his mind last May.

He was in a car, on his way to his aunt’s Leschi home, where she lives with her husband, Michael Shantz, 58; their two children, Atticus, 13, and Juno, 7, and a friend’s daughter, Alanna, 15. Shantz’s two older sons, Ab, 25, and Teo, 21, who rent a house nearby, were also there.

They knew almost nothing about the events of the day: the shootings in the Lakewood coffee shop or the massive manhunt for Clemmons, who had been shot by one of the officers before the officer died.

Chrisceda Clemmons and Shantz had spent the day in Lynnwood, where their band, Bakra Bata, had played at the opening of a transit station. Shantz had glanced at The New York Times online that morning and saw something about four officers in Tacoma, but forgot about it.

Their performance ended at 4 p.m., but they didn’t get home until 6. It was almost 7 when the phone rang.

“Maurice sounded pretty normal, just a little hyped,” Chrisceda Clemmons remembered Wednesday. “He didn’t sound weak from his gunshot.”

He would call a total of four times, talking for a bit, then hanging up but always getting closer. He said he was trying to get as far away from Tacoma as he could. He felt safe in her neighborhood, he said, and thought she and her husband might help him by renting a car and driving him to Arkansas the place he always considered home.

“He trusted me,” Chrisceda Clemmons said. “He trusted that I wouldn’t turn him in.”

But she did. And she was the only one. Other friends and family are accused of helping Clemmons escape the shooting scene, tending to his gunshot wound, washing his bloody clothes and keeping him out of law enforcement’s reach.

But Chrisceda Clemmons couldn’t do that. She had to think of her family. And she knew her nephew was not well. There was the time last May at his house in Tacoma when “he got angry at something” and started throwing rocks at his neighbors’ houses and cars. One hit an elderly man. Later Clemmons assaulted two sheriff’s deputies.

And there were allegations of child rape and “religious delusions,” Shantz said, that included Clemmons’ belief that he was God, and that swine flu was the apocalypse.

Now this. Four cops dead, and he was headed their way.

“I was in shock,” Chrisceda Clemmons said. “That’s when we gathered the kids up and sent them away. I believed Maurice when he said he had killed people. I knew he was very angry and frustrated. He was paranoid, and he was very frustrated and sick of the police.”

“Tired of these bitches,” is how he put it. He told her he had shot the officers intentionally, and believed that they were trying to charge him with rape, which would have given him “three strikes” and sent him back to prison for life.

She asked Maurice if he was armed. Yes, he said.

Shantz told him: “You cannot come to the house. Period.”

He asked Maurice if he was willing to get rid of the gun. No.

“Probably an hour passed, and I was getting more panicked,” Chrisceda Clemmons said. “Then I just got into the car with Michael and said, ’Let’s go.’”

It was about 8 p.m. when they drove to the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct. Shantz went in and left his wife in the car. They knew that it was going to be a long night and hoped that at least one of them would be able to get to their kids, who were staying with Shantz’s sons.

“I’m here to talk to someone about Maurice Clemmons,” Shantz told the officer at the desk. “I have factual information about his whereabouts.”

The officer, who was on the phone, told him to take a seat.

Fifteen minutes later, Shantz told his story, Chrisceda Clemmons was brought in and before long, an army of police officers descended on their neighborhood. There were snipers on roofs, police everywhere. Neighbors couldn’t get to their homes. The siege went on all night.

Still, “we don’t know if Maurice was ever in the house,” Shantz said. “The sergeant on the scene called and told me he saw ’him’ get out of a car and go up on the porch, but then we got cut off.”

Dawn arrived. Maurice Clemmons was nowhere to be found.

His aunt doesn’t understand how he could have gotten away.

“They have all this manpower, snipers on all these roofs and they let this wounded man escape,” she said.

A wounded man who was her nephew. Who trusted her.

“Do I feel badly?” she asked. “Yes, I feel bad, but it was the right thing to do because I didn’t want him to hurt any more people.”

Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer agrees.

“Absolutely, she did the right thing,” he said.

But her nephew is dead, shot by a Seattle police officer early Tuesday morning.

“I was actually relieved,” she said. “That he died was the best thing for him. He would rather die than go back to prison.”

Still, “I felt it was a terrible tragedy that he had to lose his life because of his mental disability,” she said.

And she feels awful about the Lakewood officers. Their families. Their children. “It’s a terrible tragedy for anyone to lose their lives this way, and I’m sorry.”

Now the cleanup begins.

Chrisceda Clemmons is looking for a lawyer to volunteer to help her family through their legal morass.

And the house where she and Shantz have lived for 21 years is trashed from the long police siege. The couple will have to clear a judicial review, they said, before they can receive restitution for the damage that was done.

There is a lot of it: Every window broken, furniture and musical instruments tossed all around. There are tear gas casings piled by the front door, which has a hole punched in it.

Shantz has been researching how to clean up the tear gas residue that covers almost everything, and purchased jumpsuits and gas masks for the task.

Stand inside too long and your eyes begin to water.

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