US police seek person of interest in Washington shooting

Last Updated: Monday, November 30, 2009 - 10:03

Washington: A man with an extensive criminal past — whose 95-year prison sentence was commuted in Arkansas nearly a decade ago — was being sought on Sunday as a "person of interest" in a deadly ambush on four police officers who were gunned down inside a coffee shop.
Pierce County sheriff`s spokesman Ed Troyer told reporters that Maurice Clemmons, 37, was one of several people investigators want to talk to and that he could not be called a suspect at this point.

In a news release, the sheriff`s office said Clemmons has an extensive violent criminal history from Arkansas, including aggravated robbery and theft. Clemmons also 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-Governor Mike Huckabee commuted Clemmons` 95-year prison sentence. Huckabee, who was criticised during his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 for the number of clemencies and commutations he granted, 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 on March 18, 2004, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper.

The four officers were with the 100-member police department of Lakewood, which adjoins the unincorporated area of Parkland, where the shootings took place. The city identified the victims as Sgt Mark Renninger, 39; Ronald Owens, 37; Tina Griswold, 40; and Greg Richards 42.

Troyer said one of those officers fought with the gunman and may have wounded him before the officer died just outside the doorway. He told reporters that investigators were asking area medical providers to report any people wounded by gunshots.

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 either 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," Troyer said.

He added, "We hope that he hit him."

Troyer said the gunman entered the coffee house and walked up to the counter as if to place an order. A barista saw a gun when the man opened his jacket and fled out the back door. The man then turned and opened fire on the officers as they sat working on their laptops, killing the three men and one woman in what Troyer described as a targeted ambush.

Troyer said the attack was clearly targeted at the officers, not a robbery gone bad.

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

Troyer said the officers were catching up on paperwork at the beginning of their shifts when they were attacked at 8:15 am Sunday.

"There were marked patrol cars outside and they were all in uniform," Troyer said.

There was no indication of any connection with the Halloween night shooting of a Seattle police officer. The suspect in that shooting remains hospitalised.

"We won`t know if it`s a copycat effect or what it was until we get the case solved," Troyer said. "We don`t even have a suspect ID right now."

Troyer estimated that a couple of hundred officers from the Washington State Patrol and multiple surrounding police agencies in the area were at the crime scene, with some coming on their own time.

On Sunday night, a motorcade of dozens of police cars and motorcycles with lights flashing escorted the bodies of the four officers from the crime scene to the Pierce County medical examiner`s office in Tacoma. The motorcade rolled under a giant American flag hanging from fire truck ladders.

"We have no motive at all," Troyer said. "I don`t think when we find out what it is, it will be anything that makes any sense or be worth it."

Two employees and a few other customers were in the shop during the attack. All were interviewed by the Pierce County sheriff`s investigators.

"Some are in shock. They are very upset," 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 centre alongside two restaurants, a cigar store and a nail salon.

Bureau Report



First Published: Monday, November 30, 2009 - 10:03

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