Search intensifies for man who shot officers

Wash. suspect has long history of violence, crime

A Seattle police SWAT vehicle left a house after a fruitless search for the suspect in the slayings of officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens, Mark Renninger, and Greg Richards. Police believe the suspect was wounded in the coffee-shop attack early Sunday. A Seattle police SWAT vehicle left a house after a fruitless search for the suspect in the slayings of officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens, Mark Renninger, and Greg Richards. Police believe the suspect was wounded in the coffee-shop attack early Sunday. (Stephen Brashear/ Getty Images)
By Gene Johnson
Associated Press / December 1, 2009

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SEATTLE - Using search dogs and going door to door, hundreds of police intensified the search yesterday for the man wanted in the coffeehouse killings of four officers after a SWAT team came up empty-handed in a raid on a house where he was thought to be hiding.

The realization that the suspect had not been cornered after all further rattled people in the Seattle area, many of them unnerved by the thought of a mentally unstable killer in their midst.

Police canvassed the neighborhood around the Seattle house and fanned out across the city, looking for any sign of Maurice Clemmons, 37.

Authorities posted a $125,000 reward for information leading to his arrest in the Sunday morning shooting rampage.

The search came as authorities in two states took heat for the fact that Clemmons was allowed to walk the streets despite a teenage crime spree in Arkansas that landed him a 95-year prison sentence. Clemmons was released in 2000 after then-Governor Mike Huckabee commuted his sentence.

“This guy should have never been on the street,’’ said Brian D. Wurts, president of the police union in Lakewood, where the slain officers worked. “Our elected officials need to find out why these people are out.’’

Police said they are not sure what prompted Clemmons to assassinate the officers as they worked on their laptop computers at the beginning of their shifts. He was described as increasingly erratic in the past few months and had been arrested recently on charges of assaulting a police officer.

Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer told the Tacoma News-Tribune that Clemmons “made comments the night before to people that he was going to shoot police and watch the news.’’

Authorities said the gunman singled out the officers and spared employees and other customers at the coffee shop in a suburb about 35 miles south of Seattle. He then fled, but not before he was apparently shot in the torso by one of the dying officers.

Police later learned he may have been hiding at the house in Seattle. After an all-night siege in which they tried to get him out using loudspeakers, explosions, and a robot sent into the house, a SWAT team stormed the place and discovered he was not there.

Police would not say who lived at the house or whether it was someone Clemmons knew.

It was not clear whether he slipped past police, left before they arrived, or was never in the house, but Seattle police spokesman Jeff Kappel said there was evidence Clemmons at one point was on the property. He would not elaborate.

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 from the house.

Police spent the day frantically chasing leads, at one point cordoning off a park where people thought they saw Clemmons.

They also alerted hospitals to be on the lookout for a man seeking treatment for gunshot wounds.

Investigators also examined the coffee shop for clues. Sheriff’s spokesman Lieutenant Dave McDonald said that authorities found a handgun carried by the killer.

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

Killed were Sergeant Mark Renninger, 39, and Officers Ronald Owens, 37, Tina Griswold, 40, and Greg Richards, 42.

Clemmons has an extensive violent criminal history from Arkansas, dating back to his teenage burglary and robbery spree. Huckabee’s decision to commute his sentence could create a problem for the Republican former governor if he runs for president again in 2012.

Huckabee cited Clemmons’s youth in granting the request. But Clemmons quickly reverted to his criminal past, violated his parole and was returned to prison. He was released again in 2004.

Clemmons was recently charged in Washington state with assaulting a police officer and raping a child. He was released from jail after posting bail with the assistance of Jail Sucks Bail Bonds.

Documents related to those charges indicate a volatile personality. In one instance, he is accused of punching a sheriff’s deputy in the face. In another, he is accused of gathering his wife and young relatives and forcing them to undress.

“The whole time Clemmons kept saying things like trust him, the world is going to end soon, and that he was Jesus,’’ a Pierce County sheriff’s report said.