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Published: Monday, 11/30/2009

Police: Suspect in deaths of officers not in house

ASSOCIATED PRESS

SEATTLE — A heavily armed SWAT team swarmed a Seattle home Monday where they thought they had cornered the suspect in the slaying of four police officers, only to find out that he was not in the house and still on the loose.

The discovery added new urgency to a manhunt that began when the officers were gunned down in a coffee shop on Sunday morning at the start of their shifts. Police surrounded a home late Sunday where they thought Clemmons was holed up and spent hours trying to communicate with him, using loudspeakers, explosions and even a robot sent into the house.

Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said the location of Clemmons was not known, and it's possible he still could be in the neighborhood. Troyer also said people who know Clemmons told investigators he had been shot in the torso in his bloody struggle with the officers.

"If he didn't get a ride out of there, he could still be in the area," Troyer said.

Clemmons Clemmons
AP Enlarge

Troyer said warrants for first-degree murder have been issued against Clemmons in the killings of the officers from the Tacoma suburb of Lakewood.

Seattle police spokesman Jeff Kappel said there was evidence Clemmons at one point was on the property, but officers could not determine whether he was in the house itself. Kappel would not describe what the evidence was, but said it was a "good tip" that led them to the home.

Meanwhile, 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 about 3 miles north of the residence, university police Cmdr. Jerome Solomon said. Police were checking the area, he said.

At one point, what sounded like gunshots rang through the neighborhood, but Kappel said no shots were fired.

Clemmons has a long criminal history, including a long prison sentence commuted by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee nearly a decade ago, and a recent arrest for allegedly assaulting a police officer in Washington.

Authorities allege he killed Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39, and officers Ronald Owens, 37, Tina Griswold, 40, and Greg Richards, 42, as they worked on their laptop computers at the beginning of their shifts.

Clemmons is believed to have been in the area of the coffee shop around the time of the shooting, but Troyer declined to say what evidence might link him to the shooting.

Investigators say they know of no reason four gunning down the officers, but court documents indicate Clemmons is delusional and mentally unstable.

"We're going to be surprised if there is a motive worth mentioning," said Troyer, who sketched out a scene of controlled and deliberate carnage that spared the employees and other customers at the coffee shop in suburban Parkland, about 35 miles south of Seattle.

"He was very versed with the weapon," Troyer said. "This wasn't something where the windows were shot up and there bullets sprayed around the place. The bullets hit their targets."

Officer Richards' sister-in-law, Melanie Burwell, called the shooting "senseless."

"He didn't have a mean bone in his body," she said. "If there were more people in the world like Greg, things like this wouldn't happen.

Clemmons has an extensive violent criminal history from Arkansas. He was also recently charged in Washington state with assaulting a police officer, and second-degree rape of a child. Using a bail bondsman, he posted $150,000 — only $15,000 of his own money — and was released from jail last week.

Documents related to the pending charges in Washington state indicate a volatile personality. In one instance, he is accused of punching a sheriff's deputy in the face, The Seattle Times reported. In another, he is accused of gathering his wife and young relatives and forcing them to undress, according to a Pierce County sheriff's report.

"The whole time Clemmons kept saying things like trust him, the world is going to end soon, and that he was Jesus," the report said.

Troyer said investigators believe two of the officers were killed while sitting in the shop, and a third was shot dead after standing up. The fourth apparently "gave up a good fight."

"We believe there was a struggle, a commotion, a fight ... that he fought the guy all the way out the door," Troyer said.

In 1989, Clemmons, then 17, was convicted in Little Rock for aggravated robbery. He was paroled in 2000 after Huckabee commuted a 95-year prison sentence.

Huckabee, who was criticized during his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 for granting many clemencies and commutations, cited Clemmons' youth. Clemmons later violated his parole, was returned to prison and released in 2004.

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."

It was the second deadly ambush of police in the Seattle area in recent weeks, but the two cases aren't related.

Authorities say a man killed a Seattle police officer on Halloween night and also firebombed four police vehicles in October as part of a "one-man war" against law enforcement. Christopher Monfort, 41, was arrested after being wounded in a firefight with police days after the Seattle shooting.

The officers killed Sunday had received no threats, Troyer said.

"We won't know if it's a copycat effect or what it was until we get the case solved," he said.

Article appeared in earlier versions of The Blade and toledoblade.com

4 officers fatally shot in Washington state; ex-convict sought in coffee shop ambush

PARKLAND, Wash. - A gunman burst into a coffee shop Sunday and opened fire on four police officers who worked for the Lakewood Police Department as they sat working on their laptops, killing the three men and one woman in what was described as a targeted ambush.

Pierce County Sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said officers were looking for a man who fled the scene, and haven't ruled out an accomplice, possibly a getaway driver.

Maurice Clemmons, 37, a Tacoma man, is being sought for questioning in the shootings.

Clemmons, recently released from jail, has an extensive criminal record in Pierce County and Arkansas, court records show. He is wanted in Arkansas and faces eight criminal charges in Washington state.

The uniformed officers were killed by a scruffy-looking man who walked into Forza Coffee and opened fire. The officers, who made up a patrol unit, were identified as Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39; Ronald Owens, 37; Tina Griswold, 40, and Greg Richards, 42.

"It's carnage out front everywhere," Mr. Troyer said. "It's like a bad horror movie. It's horrible."

The officers were in uniform, including bulletproof vests, and were preparing to start their day shifts, Mr. Troyer said.

"This was a targeted, selective ambush," he said.

One of the four officers fought with the gunman and may have wounded him before the officer died just outside the doorway, Mr. Troyer said.

Investigators were asking area medical providers to report any people wounded by gunshots.

Mr. Troyer said investigators believe two of the officers were shot dead while sitting in the shop and a third was killed after standing up.

The fourth apparently struggled with the gunman out the doorway and "gave up a good fight," getting off a few shots before he was shot there or succumbed to earlier wounds.

"We believe there was a struggle, a commotion, a fight … that he fought the guy all the way out the door," Mr. Troyer said.

Investigators determined that a hoax call from a person in nearby Tacoma led officers to believe the gunman was on foot and still near the coffee shop. A number of officers spent part of the afternoon carefully searching buildings close by.

Mr. Troyer said the attack was clearly targeted at the officers, not a botched robbery.

"This was more of an execution. Walk in with the specific mindset to shoot police officers," he said.

Lakewood Mayor Douglas Richardson said the officers had been with the department since it was organized five years ago. He called the crime "our most tragic event in Lakewood's 14 years as a city."

Mr. Troyer estimated a couple of hundred officers from the Washington State Patrol and surrounding police agencies were at the crime scene.

"We have no motive at all," Mr. Troyer said.

Two employees and a few other customers were in the shop during the attack.

"Some are in shock. They are very upset," Mr. Troyer said. "They are the ones who are going to put together for us how this happened."

The Forza Coffee Shop, part of a popular local chain, is on a side street near McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, about 35 miles south of Seattle.

The shop is in a small retail center alongside two restaurants, a cigar store, and a nail salon.

Brad Carpenter, founder and owner of Forza Coffee, said his main concern is for the families of the police officers. "I'm a retired police officer, so this really hits close to home for me."

Mr. Troyer said the Lakewood officers were two blocks outside their jurisdiction, and the coffee shop was a popular place for officers from surrounding jurisdictions to meet and share information.

Investigators were checking surveillance video from multiple sources, trying to identify a possible getaway car.

Clemmons recently was arrested and charged in Pierce County in Washington state for third-degree assault on a police officer and second-degree rape of a child. In 1989, Clemmons, then 17, was convicted in Little Rock for aggravated robbery.

He was paroled in 2000 after then-Gov. Mike Huckabee commuted Clemmons' 95-year prison sentence. Mr. Huckabee cited Clemmons' age at the time of the sentence.

After his release from prison, Clemmons violated his parole and was returned to prison in July, 2001. He was released March 18, 2004, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper.

According to the department's Web site, the Lakewood Police Department has 123 staff members. Lakewood, incorporated in 1996, has a population of nearly 60,000 residents.

In a statement, Gov. Chris Gregoire said he was "shocked and horrified at the murder of four police officers this morning in Pierce County."



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