|2009 shooting of Lakewood, Washington police officers|
The Lakewood Police Department Fallen Officer Memorial, which honors the shooting victims.
|Location||Parkland, Washington, U.S.|
|Date||November 29, 2009 |
8:15 a.m. (UTC-8)
|Weapons||Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol|
On November 29, 2009, four police officers of Lakewood, Washington were fatally shot at the Forza (now Blue Steele) Coffee shop, located at 11401 Steele Street #108 South in the Parkland unincorporated area of Pierce County, Washington, near Tacoma. A gunman, later identified as Maurice Clemmons, entered the shop, shot the officers while they worked on laptops, and fled the scene with a single gunshot wound in his torso. After a massive two-day manhunt that spanned several nearby cities, an officer recognized Clemmons near a stalled car in south Seattle. When he refused orders to stop, he was shot and killed by a Seattle Police Department officer.
Five people, all friends and family of Clemmons, were convicted of crimes associated with aiding his escape and enabling him to elude capture, but most convictions were reversed on appeal, based on court findings of misconduct by the Pierce County Prosecutor's Office, led by Mark Lindquist.
Clemmons' shooting of the Lakewood officers was initially thought to be have been part of a targeted attack by multiple persons against police officers in the Seattle-Tacoma area, but these actions are now considered unrelated. Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton was murdered a month earlier under similar circumstances. Three weeks later on December 21 in Eatonville, two Pierce County sheriff's deputies were shot and critically injured (one later died of his wounds). That gunman was shot dead in return fire. The Lakewood shooting is the most deadly attack on law enforcement in the state of Washington.
At the time, the Lakewood shooting was both the deadliest attack on law enforcement in the United States since the March 21, 2009, fatal shootings of four Oakland, California, police officers, as well as the deadliest attack on law enforcement in a single incident by a single gunman. The four Lakewood police officers were the first to be killed in the line of duty since the department was established in 2004.
The gunman was identified as 37-year-old Maurice Clemmons, originally from Marianna, Arkansas in the Arkansas Delta. Clemmons had a violent criminal history, with at least five felony convictions in Arkansas and eight felony charges in the state of Washington. In 2000, Clemmons' 95-year sentence for aggravated robbery was commuted by Governor Mike Huckabee. After being released from prison, Clemmons moved to Western Washington in 2004, where he had family and friends. In spring 2009, Clemmons was charged with rape of a child and third-degree assault on a Pierce County police officer.
Clemmons was arrested 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 a Chehalis-based company, to secure his release. He was released on bail November 22, a week before the shootings, after posting a $150,000 bail bond. Two other bail bond agencies had rejected Clemmons based on his history of failing to appear in court.
Clemmons failed to check in as required with his community corrections officer within 24 hours of his release, but police took no action. On November 26, 2009, during a Thanksgiving gathering at the home of Clemmons's aunt, he told several people that he was angry about his Pierce County legal problems. He said that he intended to shoot and kill 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 remove his court-ordered ankle monitor to trigger an alarm, and shoot police officers who responded by coming to his house. Dorcus Allen, a convicted murderer who had previously served in an Arkansas prison with Clemmons, was allegedly present for this conversation. Clemmons cut off the GPS monitor on Thanksgiving. On November 28, Clemmons showed two handguns to friends Eddie and Douglas Davis and told them he planned to shoot police officers; the exchange was witnessed by Clemmons's half-brother, with whom he shared a house. He told the men he had already twice tried to go to a Tacoma police station, where he planned to walk in and start shooting. 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 laptops at a Forza Coffee Company coffee shop prior to the start of their shift in nearby Parkland, next to McChord Air Force Base. All four were armed and in full uniform, wearing bulletproof vests. Clemmons drove a white pickup truck to Allen's home, and 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.
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 Renninger and Officer Tina Griswold were shot in the head and killed while sitting. Officer Ronald Owens was shot in the neck as he stood up and attempted to draw his weapon. Officer Greg Richards fired his own weapon and hit Clemmons in the abdomen, before succumbing to a shot to the head. Clemmons stole Richards's Glock before fleeing the scene with Allen. Clemmons did not harm bystanders. Investigators said the murders were an attack against police officers in general, since none of the four officers was individually targeted, and robbery was ruled out as a motive. Allen later told detectives he stopped at an intersection and abandoned Clemmons and the truck, claiming he "wanted of no part of this". But, police found no evidence Allen had abandoned the vehicle.
The afternoon following the shooting, the Pierce County sheriff identified Maurice Clemmons as the suspected murderer, saying that he had a long, violent, criminal history in Arkansas and Washington. Police confirmed that Clemmons had been shot in the abdomen during the attack, and advised hospitals to be aware.
In the late evening hours of November 29, Seattle police believed they had Clemmons surrounded in a home in the Leschi area of Seattle. 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 they 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, without success. Acting on a tip, King County Sheriff's Deputies and Washington State Patrol troopers were also conducting surveillance and going door to door at Snoqualmie Pass-area homes, 50 miles (80 km) east of Seattle. After hours of investigating, that search was called off.
Around 2:45 a.m. on December 1, Seattle police officer Benjamin L. Kelly was on patrol in south Seattle; he came upon a 1990 Acura Integra parked on the street at 44th Place South and South Kenyon Street. It was empty but the hood was 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 to report the stolen vehicle, Kelly noticed a man matching Clemmons' description approaching him from behind, walking first 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 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 the suspect ran away "in a dead sprint," and struck him at least twice.
Clemmons reached the sidewalk and collapsed face-down in a walkway leading to a home on Kenyon Street. Kelly retreated behind his patrol car, retrieved his shotgun, and called for backup. Within moments, Seattle police came to the scene. A team of officers approached the suspect, handcuffed him, and took him away from the home. Seattle Fire Department medics responded and pronounced the suspect dead at the scene. Clemmons was carrying a handgun identified as having belonged to a slain officer in the Lakewood shooting. Clemmons had a bullet wound to his abdomen sustained during the shooting in Parkland, which had been stuffed with cotton and gauze and sealed with duct tape.
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 charges of stealing from the account, using funds for his personal use.
One accomplice has been convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, while four convicted of rendering criminal assistance, including getaway driver Dorcus Allen, had their convictions reversed on appeal. The trials of accomplices to this crime were marred by prosecutorial misconduct, with many reversals and rebukes from higher courts. By December 2, 2009, six individuals were arrested charged with providing assistance to Clemmons before and after the shooting. Five were accused of providing such assistance to Clemmons 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 from the Lakewood 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. In December 2010, three of the 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. One defendant was acquitted of all charges. All of these convictions and sentences were reversed by the Washington Supreme Court in appeals of 2013 and 2014 because of prosecutor misconduct in the original trials.
In May 2011, Darcus Allen, the remaining suspect, was convicted of four counts of murder as the getaway driver for Clemmons, and 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 similar to the earlier reversals. After being convicted in the retrial and sentenced, Allen's sentence was reversed on appeal. The high court ruled that Allen was acquitted of aggravated murder at his second trial, and could not be re-tried for aggravated murder. In response, the prosecutor is re-trying him for first-degree murder. Allen maintains that he did not know Clemmons intended to commit a crime, and believes he has been a scapegoat for the public anguish and outrage evoked by the murders.
Mike Huckabee was widely criticized for having commuted Clemmons' sentence and allowed his release from prison in 2000. The evening of the shooting, Huckabee released a statement noting the roles of the parole board that freed him and the criminal justice system, which Huckabee said had repeatedly failed to properly handle Clemmons.
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' prison file, which was "thick with acts of violence and absent indications of rehabilitation." Martin also suggested that Huckabee failed to ensure Clemmons' 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."
Some university professors, criminologists, and attorneys speculated 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.
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 spoke, 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.
The memorial was logistically complex. The agencies preparing for the memorial services expected 20,000 law enforcement personnel to take part. One thousand emergency vehicles and police cruisers followed the families of the victims to the Tacoma Dome.
The site of the murders reopened two weeks after the shooting. The business later changed ownership and became Blue Steele Coffee Company. A memorial to the slain officers appears near the site.