At inquest, Benjamin L. Kelly says he thought he saw Clemmons going for a gun
SEATTLE – Seattle police Officer Benjamin L. Kelly said he didn’t immediately recognize Maurice Clemmons when he first encountered him on a South Seattle street early on the morning of Dec. 1.
But once Clemmons got within five feet of the officer and raised his head, Kelly saw the large mole on Clemmons’ left cheek and realized he was facing the man who had shot and killed four Lakewood police officers two days earlier.
Kelly, testifying during the first day of an inquest into the shooting of Clemmons, said that as soon as he recognized Clemmons, he ordered him to “’show me your hands.” Clemmons put both hands to the front of his waistband and hunched over, Kelly testified.
“I believed he was going for a gun. I discharged my duty weapon,” said Kelly, who told inquest jurors he feared for his life.
Kelly fired an initial volley of three gunshots followed by four more.
Clemmons began running away from Kelly, around the front bumper of his car and toward a house on South Kenyon Street, Kelly testified.
Asked what Clemmons’ reaction was, Kelly said, “the only reaction was after the first initial volley, he started running away from me in a dead sprint toward 4430 South Kenyon.”
Kelly said he wasn’t immediately sure whether he had hit him, but found a wounded Clemmons lying on the ground.
“He was down on the ground and he was looking at me,” said Kelly, who noted that Clemmons was struggling to breathe.
Kelly’s testimony, along with that of other Seattle officers and a doctor with the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, is part of a fact-finding hearing that will determine whether the shooting was justified. King County District Court Judge Arthur Chapman is presiding over the hearing.
Inquests often are called after fatal officer-involved shootings to determine whether the officer acted properly.
King County Executive Dow Constantine ordered the inquest into Clemmons’ slaying in January.
Inquests are fact-finding trials before a six-person district-court jury. At the end of testimony, the jury is asked to answer questions generated by the judge, a deputy county prosecutor and attorneys for the police and the slain person’s family, if the family chooses to participate.
The main question posed is whether an officer feared for his or her life when deadly force was used.
If a jury finds deadly force was unnecessary, the findings will be forwarded to the Prosecutor’s Office to determine whether criminal charges are necessary. The jury does not have to be unanimous in its decision.
Chapman said the inquest into Clemmons’ slaying is of particular interest to the public and media because the case is so high-profile. Security officials say there will be an added presence outside the courtroom.
Chapman said he expects the inquest to last two days and feature testimony from Kelly, Officer Daina Boggs, Detective Russ Weklych and Dr. Aldo Fusaro of the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. Boggs was the first patrol officer at the scene after Clemmons was shot.
The family of the person slain can have an attorney question witnesses at inquest hearings, but it’s unclear whether Clemmons’ family will have legal representation, court officials said.
On Nov. 29, Clemmons walked into a Parkland, Pierce County, coffee shop and opened fire at a table of Lakewood police officers. Killed were Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards.
Richards managed to wound Clemmons, 37.
The shooting ignited an intense, two-day manhunt that ended when Kelly encountered Clemmons at 2:45 a.m. in the 4400 block of South Kenyon Street. Kelly had stopped to investigate a parked silver 1990 Acura Integra with its hood raised. The engine was running, and nobody was inside.
Police believe Clemmons had stolen the car, which broke down about five blocks from where it had been taken.
Kelly testified Monday that he recognized the car as having been reported stolen.
As Kelly sat in his patrol car writing a report on the stolen car, he noticed a man approaching the driver’s side of the patrol car from behind, police said. Kelly got out of his car and recognized Clemmons, police said.
After shooting at Clemmons, Kelly testified that he tried to radio in his situation three times — twice from his shoulder microphone and once from his patrol car — but the transmission didn’t go through. “It bonked,” Kelly said, using a police term.
After Clemmons dived into the brush outside a home, Kelly said he chose to not follow him. Instead, he pulled out his patrol shotgun and stayed behind the car.
“I had several unknowns. I didn’t know exactly where he was. No one knew where I was. He could be setting up around the corner with the gun in his hand and I wouldn’t have a chance.”
About 30 seconds after finally getting through to dispatch, Kelly said additional officers began arriving at the scene.
A handgun was found in a front pocket of a sweat shirt Clemmons was wearing, police said. A check of the serial number showed the gun belonged to one of the Lakewood police officers, police said.
Before Monday, Kelly never had spoken publicly about the shooting; a source has said he wanted the focus to remain on the slain Lakewood officers.
Six relatives and friends of Clemmons’ have been charged with helping the man elude police after the killings.
A seventh suspect, Darcus Allen, who drove Clemmons away from the coffee shop, has been charged with four counts of aggravated first-degree murder.
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