By Seattle Times staff
Maurice Clemmons, the 37-year-old Tacoma man being sought for questioning in the killing of four Lakewood police officers this morning, has a long criminal record punctuated by violence, erratic behavior and concerns about his mental health.
Nine years ago, then-Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee granted clemency to Clemmons, commuting his lengthy prison sentence over the protestations of prosecutors.
"This is the day I've been dreading for a long time," Larry Jegley, prosecuting attorney for Arkansas' Pulaski County said Sunday night when informed that Clemmons was being sought in connection to the killings.
Clemmons' criminal history includes at least five felony convictions in Arkansas and at least eight felony charges in Washington. The record also stands out for the number of times he has been released from custody despite questions about the danger he posed.
Clemmons had been in jail in Pierce County for the past several months on a pending charge of second-degree rape of a child.
He was released from custody just six days ago, even though he was wanted on a fugitive warrant out of Arkansas and was staring at eight felony charges in all out of Washington state.
Clemmons posted $15,000 with a Chehalis company called Jail Sucks Bail Bonds. The bondsman, in turn, put up $150,000, securing Clemmons' release on the pending child-rape charge.
Clemmons lives in Tacoma, where he has run a landscaping and power-washing business out of his house, according to a police interview with his wife earlier this year.
He was married, but the relationship was tumultuous, with accounts of his unpredictable behavior leading to at least two confrontations with police earlier this year.
During the confrontation in May, Clemmons punched a sheriff's deputy in the face, according to court records. As part of that incident, he was charged with seven counts of assault and malicious mischief.
In another instance, Clemmons was accused of gathering his wife and young relatives around at 3 or 4 in the morning and having them all undress. He told them that families need to "be naked for at least 5 minutes on Sunday," a Pierce County sheriff's report says.
"The whole time Clemmons kept saying things like trust him, the world is going to end soon, and that he was Jesus," the report says.
As part of the child-rape investigation, the sheriff's office interviewed Clemmons' sister in May. She told them that "Maurice is not in his right mind and did not know how he could react when contacted by Law Enforcement," a sheriff's report says.
"She stated that he was saying that the secret service was coming to get him because he had written a letter to the President. She stated his behavior has become unpredictable and erratic. She suspects he is having a mental breakdown," the report says.
Deputies also interviewed other family members. They reported that Clemmons had been saying he could fly and that he expected President Obama to visit to "confirm that he is Messiah in the flesh."
Prosecutors in Pierce County were sufficiently concerned about Clemmons' mental health that they asked to have him evaluated at Western State Hospital. Earlier this month, on Nov. 6, a psychologist concluded that Clemmons was competent to stand trial on the child-rape and other felony charges, according to court records.
Clemmons moved Washington in 2004, after being released from prison in Arkansas, state Department of Corrections records indicate. That would mean he had gone five years or so before landing in serious trouble with authorities here, according to a review of his criminal record.
Clemmons started Sea-Wash Pressure Washing Landscaping with his wife, Nicole Smith, in October 2005. The license for the business expired last month.
Long history of trouble in Arkansas
News accounts out of Arkansas offer a confusing — and, at times, conflicting — description of Clemmons' criminal history and prison time.
In 1990, Clemmons, then 18, was sentenced in Arkansas to 60 years in prison for burglary and theft of property, according to a news account. Newspaper stories describe a series of disturbing incidents involving Clemmons while he was being tried in Arkansas on various charges.
During one trial, Clemmons was shackled in leg irons and seated next to a uniformed officer. The presiding judge ordered the extra security because he felt Clemmons had threatened him, court records show.
Another time, Clemmons hid a hinge in his sock, and was accused of intending to use it as a weapon. Yet another time, Clemmons took a lock from a holding cell, and threw it toward the bailiff. He missed and instead hit Clemmons' mother, who had come to bring him street clothes, according to records and published reports.
On another occasion, Clemmons had reached for a guard's pistol during transport to the courtroom.
When Clemmons received the 60-year sentence, he was already serving 48 years on five felony convictions and facing up to 95 more years on charges of robbery, theft of property and possessing a handgun on school property. Records from Clemmons' sentencing described him as 5-foot-7 and 108 pounds. The crimes were committed when he was 17.
Clemmons served 11 years before being released.
News accounts say Huckabee then commuted Clemmons' sentence, citing Clemmons' young age at the time the crimes were committed.
But Clemmons remained on parole — and soon after landed in trouble again. In March 2001, he was accused of violating his parole by committing aggravated robbery and theft, according to a story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazzette.
He was returned to prison on a parole violation. But in what appears to have been a mistake, Clemmons was not actually served with the arrest warrants until leaving prison three years later. As a result, Clemmons' attorney argued that the charges should be dismissed because too much time had passed. Prosecutors dropped the charges.
It appears that Clemmons remained in trouble with Arkansas authorities even after moving away. This year, while Clemmons was living in Washington, a warrant was issued for his arrest, accusing him of being a fugitive from Arkansas.
Seattle Times staff
A 37-year-old Tacoma man, Maurice Clemmons, is being sought for questioning in the execution-style shooting of four Lakewood police officers this morning, according to two law-enforcement sources.
Clemmons, who was recently released from jail, has an extensive criminal record in Pierce County and Arkansas, court records show. Clemmons is wanted in Arkansas and faces eight criminal charges in Washington state.
The four officers were killed at about 8:15 a.m. by a scruffy-looking man who walked into a coffee shop and opened fire. The officers — three men and one woman — were found dead by deputies who arrived at Forza Coffee at 11401 Steele St. S., said Pierce County Sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer.
Troyer said the investigation into the shootings indicate that the gunman "flat-out executed" two of the officers. One officer then stood up, tried to go for the gunman and was shot, Troyer said.
The fourth officer was involved in some kind of struggle with the gunman.
"What happened in there wasn't just a shooting. One of the officers managed to fight his way with the suspect, wrestled him out the door when he was shot and killed," Troyer said.
Before that fourth officer was killed, Troyer said, he apparently managed to fire at the shooter.
Troyer said if the gunman was shot, he could be traveling some distance to get care. Troyer suggested the man may try to visit a medical facility and claim he had suffered an accidental gunshot wound.
The officers who were shot made up one patrol unit, including a sergeant. Their families have been notified, but their identities have not been released.
"It's carnage out front everywhere," Troyer said, describing the front of the coffee shop. "It's like a bad horror movie, it's horrible."
The officers were in uniform, including bulletproof vests, and were working on their laptop computers as they prepared to start their day shifts, Troyer said.
"This was a targeted, selective ambush," Troyer said.
Troyer said there may have been a driver who helped the suspect get away, and police had a description of the possible driver.
The gunman was described as a black man in his 20s or 30s, between 5-feet-7 inches and 5-feet-10-inches, and ran north on Steele Street South after the shooting. He was wearing a black coat over a gray hooded sweat shirt and bluejeans, Troyer said.
Police took a man into custody at a Parkland house nearby after he apparently called 911, claiming to be the shooter. But the man was not linked to the crime, Troyer said.
Dozens of officers were searching the area near the coffee shop, including the parking lot of Evergreen Self Storage. Troyer, carrying an assault rifle, told members of the media, "this is kind of a hot area, so you're kind of on your own."
He urged the reporters not to roam off and assigned three officers to stand near the media.
At least a dozen officers also have surrounded another nearby house. Three cars were parked in the driveway but there was no indication whether anyone was inside the property.
Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna said he has directed his office to help in the investigation, including the Homicide Investigation Tracking System and the unit's criminal investigators. That system includes a central repository for detailed information on violent crimes occurring in Washington and Oregon.
Two coffee-shop employees and several customers are being interviewed by police and considered critical witnesses, Troyer said. "As you can imagine, they are traumatized, they are in shock," said Troyer. No one else was hurt.
Brad Carpenter, CEO of Forza Coffee, met with the two young female baristas after they were interviewed by police and said they were "shaken up." The slain officers were "well-known to our staff," Carpenter, a retired police officer from Oakland and Gig Harbor.
"It's supposed to be a safe haven for everybody," Carpenter said about the coffee shop.
Police seized a white pickup parked in a nearby parking lot and took it away on a flatbed truck. Detectives were preparing search warrants for multiple locations, Troyer said.
The shootings come about a month after the killing of Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton, who was targeted for being a police officer when he was gunned down while sitting in his patrol car the night of Oct. 31.
A $10,000 reward has been offered for information leading to an arrest in the Lakewood officer's deaths.
Forza Coffee is in a strip mall across the street from McChord Air Force Base and at a crossroads between Parkland and Lakewood, with a mix of residences and industrial businesses.
Immediately after the 911 call came in, police from Lakewood, Tacoma, the Pierce County Sheriff's Department and other jurisdictions raced to the area.
"I have never seen this many scramble to a particular spot, ever," said David Gabrielson, 27, who works as clerk at a gas station near the coffee shop.
Troyer said officers "were self-dispatching from multiple agencies" to help. He also said law enforcement had not received any threats or warnings.
"We don't know if this is related to other shootings around the country or the one in Seattle," Troyer said. "It could be because someone saw this happening around the country and got himself ramped up."
Troyer said a KING-5 TV helicopter was interfering with "tactical operations" of police investigating the shootings, slowing down the search for suspects. The pilot had been asked to leave and refused, but KING apparently called off the helicopter.
Monty Norman, 44, of Lakewood works at a carwash and detailing shop three blocks from the Lakewood Police Department headquarters. Officers come in the shop every day to have their cars cleaned.
"It's just crazy. Just insane. Words can't explain. It's just a bad feeling, We see them [officers] every day. They're really good people," Norman said.
According to the department's Web site, the Lakewood Police Department has 123 staff members including 120 commissioned officers.
In a statement, Gov. Chris Gregoire expressed condolences for the family and co-workers of the slain officers. "I am shocked and horrified at the murder of four police officers this morning in Pierce County. Our police put their lives on the line every day, and tragedies like this remind us of the risks they continually take to keep our communities safe.
"I offer whatever support is needed to the Pierce County Sheriff in their search for the perpetrator of this terrible crime."
Initial research suggests the shooting of four police officers in Lakewood ranks as the worst attack on law enforcement in state history.
Nationally, the worst incident involving law-enforcement casualties is the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Reports from that incident say 60 police officers were killed, though the circumstances differ. Officers and other emergency workers responding to the attacks died in the course of rescue attempts as opposed to direct confrontations with assailants.
In March of this year, four Oakland, Calif., police officers were fatally shot — the worst casualty count in that state since 1970, when four highway patrolmen were killed.
Seattle Times staff reporters Sara Jean Green, Mike Carter, Steve Miletich, Bob Young, Jack Broom, Jennifer Sullivan and Jonathan Martin contributed to this report. Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or email@example.com. Information from the News Tribune of Tacoma is included in this report.