2009 shooting of Lakewood, Washington, police officers
|2009 shooting of Lakewood, Washington, police officers|
The Lakewood Police Department Fallen Officer Memorial, which honors the shooting victims.
|Date||November 29, 2009
8:15 a.m. (UTC-8)
|Weapons||Glock 17 semiautomatic pistol|
On November 29, 2009, four Lakewood, Washington, police officers were fatally shot at the now-closed Forza Coffee Co. coffee shop, which was located at 11401 Steele Street South in the Parkland unincorporated area of Pierce County, Washington. One gunman, later identified as Maurice Clemmons, entered the coffee shop, fired at the officers as they sat working on their laptop computers preparing for their shifts, and then fled the scene. After a two-day manhunt that spanned several cities in the Puget Sound region, the gunman was shot and killed by a Seattle Police Department officer in south Seattle after refusing orders to stop.
The shooting is believed to have been a targeted attack against police officers, and came less than a month after the murder of Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton under similar circumstances nearly 40 miles (64 km) to the north. Another shooting involving Pierce County sheriff's deputies occurred three weeks after in Eatonville, on December 21, when two deputies were shot and critically injured (one later died from his injuries) by a man, who was then shot dead. It is believed to be the most deadly attack on law enforcement in the state of Washington, and at the time the deadliest attack on law enforcement in the United States since the March 21, 2009, shootings that left four Oakland, California, police officers dead. The four were the first Lakewood police officers to be killed in the line of duty since the department's establishment in 2004.
Although Clemmons was killed by police, six other people were charged in connection with the murders. All six are friends and family of Clemmons who aided him in escaping the scene and eluding capture. One was convicted in June 2010 and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. In December 2010, three of four accused suspects were found guilty of rendering criminal assistance. In May 2011, Darcus Allen, the getaway driver and remaining suspect, was convicted of four counts of murder and sentenced to 420 years in prison the following month. The convictions were later reversed on appeal due to misconduct by the Pierce County Prosecutor's Office.
Immediately following the shootings, the Lakewood Police Independent Guild set up a memorial fund for the officers. As of 2012, about $3.2 million were donated to the fund. In March 2012, Lakewood police officer Skeeter Timothy Manos pleaded guilty to using the account set up for donations as "his own personal piggy bank."
Preceding the shooting
The gunman was identified as 37-year-old Maurice Clemmons, originally from Marianna, Arkansas. Clemmons had a violent criminal history, with at least five felony convictions in Arkansas and eight felony charges in Washington. In 2000, Clemmons had his 95-year sentence for aggravated robbery commuted by then-Governor Mike Huckabee and moved to Western Washington in 2004. In spring 2009, Clemmons was charged with rape of a child and third-degree assault on a police officer for punching a Pierce County sheriff's deputy in the face during a confrontation, and was let out of jail on those charges after posting a $150,000 bail bond one week prior to the shootings.
Clemmons was last arrested before the shooting on July 1, 2009, for failure to appear in court. On November 23, 2009, Clemmons paid $15,000 for a $190,000 bail bond from Jail Sucks Bail Bonds, a Chehalis-based company, to secure his release. Two other bail bond agencies had rejected Clemmons based on his history of failing to appear in court.
Clemmons failed to check in with his community corrections officer within 24 hours of his release as required, but nothing was done in response. On November 26, 2009, less than one week after Clemmons posted his bail bond, during a Thanksgiving gathering at the home of Clemmons's aunt, Clemmons told several people he was angry about his Pierce County legal problems and that he planned to use a gun to murder police officers and others, including school children. He showed a gun to the people in the room and told them he had two others in his car and home. Clemmons said he planned to activate an alarm by removing a court-ordered ankle monitor, then he would shoot the police officers who responded by coming to his house. In describing the planned murder, Clemmons said, "Knock, knock, knock, boom!" Darcus Allen, a convicted murderer who previously served in an Arkansas prison with Clemmons, was allegedly present for the conversation. Also on Thanksgiving, Clemmons cut off a GPS monitor Jail Sucks Bail Bonds had secured onto his ankle. On November 28, Clemmons showed two handguns to friends Eddie and Douglas Davis and told them he planned to shoot police officers with them; the exchange was witnessed by Clemmons's half-brother Rickey Hinton, with whom he shared a house. During the exchange, Clemmons danced around with the guns in his hands, claiming to be Lucifer. He told the men he had twice tried to go to a Tacoma police station, where he planned to walk in and start shooting. The first time the station was closed, and the second time he got a flat tire on the way there, Clemmons claimed. He also talked about stopping at a crowded intersection or a school and shooting people there.
On the morning of Sunday, November 29, 2009, the four officers were working on their laptop computers prior to the start of their shift inside a Forza Coffee Company coffee shop in nearby Parkland, adjacent to McChord Air Force Base. All four were in full uniform, armed, and wearing bulletproof vests. Clemmons drove a white pickup truck to Allen's home, then Allen drove him past the coffee shop. After they saw marked police patrol cars in the parking lot, Allen drove back past the coffee shop and parked nearby. Some reports from witnesses said Clemmons parked his truck in a car wash stall at the coffee shop and pretended to clean the vehicle, but never turned the hose on.
At approximately 8:15 AM (UTC-8), Clemmons entered the coffee shop, approached the counter, turned around, and opened fire on the four seated officers with a Glock 17 9mm semi-automatic handgun. He also carried a Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolver. Sergeant Mark Renniger and Officer Tina Griswold were killed as they sat in their chairs, both shot in the head. Officer Ronald Owens was shot in the neck as he stood up and attempted to draw his weapon. Officer Greg Richards managed to fight back against Clemmons and fired his own weapon, hitting Clemmons in the abdomen, before succumbing to a shot to the head. Clemmons then stole Richards's Glock before fleeing the scene. Clemmons was then seen getting into a vehicle which fled the scene. Neither of the two coffee shop employees nor the other customers in the store were hurt, and no money was taken from the cash register. Investigators say the murder was a targeted attack against police officers in general, since none of the four officers were individually targeted and robbery was ruled out as a motive. Clemmons returned to the truck and Allen drove him away. Allen later told detectives he stopped at an intersection and abandoned Clemmons and the truck, claiming he "wanted of no part of this". However, the police later disputed this claim and said there was no evidence Allen abandoned the vehicle.
The afternoon following the shooting, the Pierce County sheriff identified Maurice Clemmons, who had long criminal history in Arkansas and Washington, as the suspected murderer. Police confirmed that Clemmons had been shot in the abdomen during the attack, and advised hospitals to keep an eye out for walk-ins with gunshot wounds.
In the late evening hours of November 29, Seattle police believed they had Clemmons surrounded in a home in the Leschi area of Seattle. Along with air support provided by King County Sheriff's Office, SWAT teams from the King County Sheriff's Office, Seattle Police Department, Tacoma Police Department, and other agencies entered the home after a twelve-hour standoff but found no one inside. Earlier in the day, Tacoma police served a search warrant on a Tacoma home belonging to a "person of interest" and collected evidence. An intense manhunt ensued, and police from agencies in Pierce and King Counties conducted searches at the University of Washington campus, Rizal Park, and in Renton, none of which turned up the suspect. King County Sheriff's Deputies and Washington State Patrol troopers, acting on a tip, were also conducting surveillance and going door to door at Snoqualmie Pass area homes, 50 miles (80 km) east of Seattle. A tip stated that Clemmons was going to be dropped off at Snoqualmie Pass to be handed off to another person to escape the region. After hours of investigating, the search was called off. The tip had been one of thousands of tips that came into local law enforcement agencies. Suspects in his escape later admitted that false tips were called in to sidetrack law enforcement officials.
Death of Clemmons
Around 2:45 a.m. on December 1, Seattle police officer Benjamin L. Kelly was on patrol in south Seattle and came upon a 1990 Acura Integra parked on the street at 44th Place South and South Kenyon Street, unoccupied with its hood raised and the engine running. He ran the vehicle's license plate number and determined that it had been stolen about two hours earlier. While sitting in his patrol car filling out paperwork in conjunction with the stolen vehicle, Kelly noticed a person matching Clemmons's description approaching him from behind, first walking on the sidewalk and then in the middle of the street. Police accounts state that Kelly confronted Clemmons and ordered him to stop and show his hands, but Clemmons instead began to flee around the disabled vehicle and reportedly "reached into his waist area and moved" as Kelly was drawing his side arm. Kelly fired three shots at Clemmons, followed by another four shots as he ran away "in a dead sprint," striking him at least twice. Clemmons managed to reach the sidewalk and collapsed face-down in a walkway leading to a home on Kenyon Street. Kelly then retreated behind his patrol car, retrieved his shotgun, and called for backup. Within moments, Seattle police swarmed the scene and a team of officers approached the fallen Clemmons, handcuffed him, and dragged him away from the home. Seattle Fire Department medics responded and pronounced Clemmons dead at the scene. Seattle police later identified the deceased suspect as Clemmons. He was allegedly carrying a handgun that was identified by tracing the serial number as having belonged to Greg Richards, the fourth and final victim of the coffee shop shooting. Clemmons also had a prior bullet wound to his abdomen that had been stuffed with cotton and gauze and sealed with duct tape that the police determined was sustained in the Parkland shooting.
- Sergeant Mark Renninger, 39, thirteen years of law enforcement experience, died from a gunshot wound to the head.
- Officer Ronald Owens, 37, twelve years of law enforcement experience, of Puyallup, died from a gunshot wound to the neck.
- Officer Tina Griswold, 40, fourteen years of law enforcement experience, died from a gunshot wound to the head.
- Officer Greg Richards, 42, eight years of law enforcement experience, of Graham, died from a gunshot wound to the head.
- The Glock was purchased in June 2005 at a Renton, Washington pawnshop, Ben’s Loan Inc. The purchaser reported the gun stolen in March 2006, after his car was broken into at a downtown Seattle parking garage at Second Avenue and James Street.
- The Smith & Wesson revolver was shipped in 1981 to the (now-closed) Police Arms and Citizen Supply in Lakewood, Colorado, but from that point, no details were found.
By December 2, 2009, six individuals were arrested and faced charges of providing assistance to Clemmons before and after the shooting. One of those six – Darcus Allen, who was already wanted in connection with a bank robbery in Arkansas – served time with Clemmons in an Arkansas prison and is believed to have been Clemmons's getaway driver. The other five were accused of providing assistance to Clemmons such as transporting him to several locations, providing him with money and cell phones, making arrangements for him to flee the state, and treating his gunshot wound sustained in the Parkland shooting, all with full knowledge of the crime he had committed. In June 2010, Clemmons's sister was sentenced to five years imprisonment for acting as a getaway driver after the shooting. Later in December, three of four other suspects were convicted. On January 14, 2011, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend sentenced accomplices Eddie Lee Davis to 10 years, five months; Douglas Edward Davis to seven years, six months; and Letrecia Nelson to six years, two months in state prison.
In May 2011, Allen, the remaining suspect, was convicted of four counts of murder. He was sentenced to 420 years in prison the following month. In January 2015, the Washington Supreme Court overturned his conviction and ordered a new trial, citing prosecutor misconduct.
Mike Huckabee received nationwide criticism for his role in Clemmons's release from prison in 2000. The evening of the shooting, Huckabee released a statement seeking to cast some of the responsibility for Clemmons's release onto the parole board that freed him and the criminal justice system that Huckabee said repeatedly failed to properly handle him. In his statement, Huckabee said, "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." Huckabee, who was considered a favorite for the Republican Party presidential nomination in 2012, claimed that the situation was used as a political weapon against him. Clemmons has been compared to Willie Horton, a convicted felon who was furloughed from a Massachusetts prison in 1986 but never returned and committed more violent crimes several months later. The Horton case eventually factored into the 1988 presidential campaign of Democratic Party candidate Michael Dukakis, who was Governor of Massachusetts at the time and supported the furlough program. Timothy Egan, opinion writer for The New York Times, said of Huckabee's role in Clemmons's release, "If this case does not sink the presidential aspirations of Huckabee…it should."
In his book about the shooting, The Other Side of Mercy, Jonathan Martin of The Seattle Times wrote that Huckabee apparently failed to review Clemmons's prison file, which was "thick with acts of violence and absent indications of rehabilitation." Martin also suggested that Huckabee failed to ensure Clemmons's post-release plan was "solid, or even factual." In an article for the Times, Martin wrote that if Huckabee was serious about running for president in 2016, "he'll have to answer his Maurice Clemmons problem."
The incident has also led some university professors, criminologists, and attorneys to speculate that U.S. governors will become more reluctant to grant pardons and clemencies to convicted felons, in order to avoid the negative publicity faced by Dukakis and Huckabee in the Horton and Clemmons cases, respectively.
Officers' memorial service
A public memorial service for the four slain officers was held December 8, 2009, at the Tacoma Dome. The day began with a 10-mile (16 km) procession from McChord Air Force Base past the Lakewood police station to the Tacoma Dome. Over 2,000 police and fire vehicles from over 150 different law enforcement and fire agencies participated in the procession, which took five hours to complete. Over 20,000 people, mostly from the law enforcement and firefighting communities, attended the service at the Tacoma Dome. Police officers from as far away as New York City and Boston, as well as a large contingent of Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers, were in attendance. Lakewood's mayor and police chief gave remarks at the service, followed by eulogies by family, friends, and colleagues of the four officers. Washington Governor Christine Gregoire also spoke, saying, "We will remember them today. We will remember them always." The service concluded with a played recording of a police dispatcher attempting to call each officer with no response, and the dispatcher declaring each officer as "gone but not forgotten." The officers' remains were buried in private ceremonies by their individual families.
From a logistical standpoint, the agencies preparing for the memorial services expected 20,000 law enforcement personnel to appear at the service. One thousand emergency vehicles and police cruisers were set up to follow the families of the victims to the Tacoma Dome. Fifty people from several public agencies worked to make the event occur smoothly. Jody Woodcock, a program manager of the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management, said that the agencies planned to make the event look like it was easily prepared and that the authorities intend to "take care of all the details so the families and the law enforcement community don't have to think about them." Rob Carson of The (Tacoma) News Tribune said, "Logistically, the event is staggering in its complexity." Alaska Airlines gave airline tickets to family members who were going to the event and were flying into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport from other states. The American Red Cross donated food and water for the event.
- List of American police officers killed in the line of duty
- Murder of Timothy Brenton
- 2009 shootings of Oakland police officers
- 2009 shooting of Pittsburgh police officers
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- Media related to Lakewood police officer shooting at Wikimedia Commons