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Officer says he thought Clemmons was pulling gun

Tue., April 6, 2010

Seattle cop testifies at shooting inquest

SEATTLE – A Seattle police officer testified Monday that he armed himself when he recognized the man who fatally shot four officers at a Lakewood coffee shop because he believed the man would fire upon any law enforcement coming to arrest him.

Before a six-person inquest jury, Officer Benjamin L. Kelly described the events that occurred in less than one minute during the early morning hours of Dec. 1, starting with checking a stolen car in southern Seattle and ending with the capture of Maurice Clemmons.

“He gave me an ‘oh crap’ look,” Kelly said, describing a man wearing a hooded sweat shirt coming toward his squad car whom he realized was Clemmons and ordered him to show his hands.

The November 2009 attack on the Lakewood officers days earlier had sparked a massive manhunt for Clemmons. Kelly said he and his fellow officers were told Clemmons was armed and dangerous and likely would not be taken alive.

Kelly said that he knew the man he confronted was Clemmons because of his size and the mole on his cheek.

“The mole was a dead giveaway,” he said.

The police officer testified that Clemmons appeared to reach for a gun and that Kelly fired three shots, followed by another four. Despite the gunshots, at least some of which hit Clemmons, he ran toward a house with high shrubbery in front, the officer recalled.

The officer said he was worried after Clemmons got to the sidewalk and the shrubbery, because he could no longer see the man.

In the meantime, Kelly said he tried repeatedly to call for help, but that his radio didn’t work until about the fourth time he tried.

The inquest Monday is standard in King County in fatal police shootings and will help the prosecutor decide whether to file a charge. The main question is whether the officer feared for his life when he used deadly force.

While questioned by attorney Kristen Richardson, Kelly spoke calmly but assertively, but never showed any emotion. About two dozen police officers from around the region listened to the testimony.

Kelly testified that he believed Clemmons would pull a gun and knew the man would shoot it out with any officer who came to arrest him. He pulled his shotgun out of the squad car while trying to call for help and figure out Clemmons’ hiding place.

Putting the long gun on the roof of his squad car made him feel a little more secure if Clemmons returned, Kelly said.

Before his fellow officers arrived, Kelly found Clemmons lying face down with his head sticking out the hedge, breathing but struggling to do so.

“I knew that my initial rounds had hit him, and he was hit critically,” Kelly said.

King County Judge Arthur Chapman said he expects the inquest to take about two days.

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