April 6, 2010 in Region

Lakewood police killer shot 4 times, inquest jury told

Jennifer Sullivan and Jonathan Martin Seattle Times
 

Maurice Clemmons was struck by four of seven gunshots fired by Seattle police Officer Benjamin L. Kelly during an early-morning encounter in South Seattle on Dec. 1, a homicide detective testified Tuesday morning in the second day of a shooting inquest.

Seattle police Detective Al Cruise said Clemmons had also suffered a fifth wound from a gunshot fired by slain Lakewood Officer Greg Richards, one of four Lakewood police officers killed by Clemmons killed two days earlier in a Parkland, Pierce County, coffee shop.

Two of the wounds inflicted by Kelly were considered fatal, Dr. Aldo Fusaro, of the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, testified Tuesday morning.

Marking an anatomical drawing set up before the jury, Fusaro pointed out where bullets struck Clemmons: in the back, chest, arm, abdomen and thigh. Clemmons also had abrasions to his face, believed to have been caused by Seattle police when they dragged him from the walkway where he had collapsed after being shot.

A six-person jury who heard inquest testimony Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning will begin deliberating after lunch.

In King County, inquests are fact-finding hearings regularly held after a police officer uses lethal force while on duty, prosecutors said. Jurors are asked to submit answers of “yes,” “no” or “unknown” to a set of questions drafted by lawyers and the judge. A key question typically asked during an inquest is whether the officer believed he was in imminent danger when lethal force was used, prosecutors said.

The King County Prosecutor’s Office reviews all inquest findings to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.

Gripping testimony: ‘I’m in trouble here’

On Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, Kelly, 39, testified about his encounter with Clemmons.

On Nov. 29, Clemmons killed Lakewood Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Richards, setting off an intense two-day manhunt.

Speaking publicly for the first time, Kelly testified that when he started his overnight patrol shift on the night of Nov. 30, the thought that he might encounter the region’s most-wanted felon flickered through his mind.

But when Kelly actually came face to face with Clemmons, the officer’s first thought was, “I’m in trouble here.”

Sitting in the dark at 2:45 a.m. in his patrol car in a South Seattle neighborhood, Kelly said, he glanced at his rearview mirror and saw a heavyset man in a hooded sweat shirt approaching on the sidewalk.

Kelly had just radioed in to dispatch about a stolen 1990 Acura Integra he found running with its hood up. He glanced into the mirror again, and the man in the sweat shirt was now 50 feet away and walking in the middle of the street. That’s odd, Kelly thought.

The man kept getting closer.

He was at the bumper of Kelly’s patrol car when the officer jumped out. The man looked up, and Kelly instantly recognized the face and the distinctive mole on his left cheek. Maurice Clemmons, the man who had shot four Lakewood police officers two days earlier, now was at the rear wheel of Kelly’s car — a few feet away.

Kelly testified that he forcefully and repeatedly ordered Clemmons to show his hands as the officer drew his gun. “I thought I could be dead in a matter of seconds,” Kelly said.

Instead, Clemmons moved his hands toward his sweat shirt pocket and raced around the front of Kelly’s car, the officer testified. Kelly said he fired three shots, then four more as Clemmons ran away “in a dead sprint.”

“I believed he was going for a gun. I discharged my duty weapon,” Kelly said. “My intent was to stop him.”

A video shot from Kelly’s patrol car — shown to the inquest jurors — shows Clemmons racing around the front of the car, limping slightly. Clemmons, 37, made it to the sidewalk, out of Kelly’s view, before collapsing face down on a walkway leading to a home.

Clemmons had slain officer’s gun

Kelly said he did not immediately know if he had wounded Clemmons during the shooting, and chose not to follow him. Instead, he pulled out his patrol shotgun and stayed behind the car, waiting for backup.

Kelly said he tried to radio for help three times, but his radio “bonked” — police jargon for failing to connect.

“I had several unknowns,” he said. “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.”

Kelly said he finally was able to contact dispatch. Patrol officers swarmed the 4400 block of South Kenyon Street within 30 seconds.

A team of officers hunched behind a bulletproof shield and marched up to the wounded man, handcuffed him and dragged him away from the home. One officer, Daina Boggs, testified that she found the duty weapon of Richards, the slain Lakewood police officer, in Clemmons’ pocket.

She said she had trouble removing it because the gun was caught on the zipper.

Cruise, the Seattle detective, said that three bullets pulled from Clemmons’ body were sent to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab for testing. Scientists matched two of the bullets to Kelly’s weapon and the third to the handgun of Richards, the slain Lakewood officer.

Police from Seattle and Lakewood, as well as relatives of the slain officers, filled the King County County courtroom on both days of the inquest.

The family of the person slain can have an attorney question witnesses at inquest hearings; Clemmons’ family is not participating in the hearing.


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