TOPICS > Politics

Manhunt Intensifies After State Police Slayings

November 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
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Four police officers were killed in Washington state Sunday while waiting for their shifts to start. Jeffrey Brown speaks with a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter for more on the manhunt for the suspected shooter.
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JEFFREY BROWN: The shooting occurred yesterday morning at a coffee shop in the suburb of Lakewood, about 35 miles south of Seattle. Police say the suspect shot the officers while they were sitting at a counter at the start of their shift. Police have identified the suspect as Maurice Clemmons. He has an extensive violent criminal record in Arkansas and Washington State.

Today, law enforcement searched the area for Clemmons. He was thought to have been cornered by a SWAT team at a Seattle home overnight, but a search showed he had fled the scene, and Clemmons remains on the loose.

Chris Grygiel is part of the reporting team at the news Web site Seattlepi.com that’s covering the story. And he joins me now.

Chris, is there any known motive at this point, any sense that these particular officers were targeted?

CHRIS GRYGIEL, Seattlepi.com: No, it’s not believed that these officers were targeted because of who they were at individuals, but, rather, targeted because they were police officers.

This is, you know, a very hectic, chaotic situation. The best motive that police have right now is — is that this man was mentally unstable and perhaps facing, you know, a very long prison term, and snapped.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, this was a place, though, that police officers were known to gather. So, in essence these officers, Mark Renninger, Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold, and Greg Richards, were just — happened to be there is what they’re thinking is now and were ambushed?

CHRIS GRYGIEL: It looks that way. The owner of that coffee shop is a former policemen. And these officers were having coffee, checking their laptops, preparing for their shift. And they just happened to be there when this man entered the store.

JEFFREY BROWN: And Mr. Clemmons is tied how? Why is he the prime suspect? Is this eyewitnesses? Or what is known about what ties him to the killings?

CHRIS GRYGIEL: You know, probably, I think it’s a combination of tips, witnesses. The police all day yesterday were urging people to call tip lines, to contact them if they had any information about this case.

This case was all over the media in Washington State all day yesterday and throughout the night and again today. And, late yesterday afternoon, they announced that Mr. Clemmons was a person of interest, and then late, late last night, they said that he was a suspect and had possibly been wounded in the confrontation with the officers.

Profiling the suspected shooter

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, let's try to fill in a bit, as much as we can, about what is known about him. I mentioned this extensive criminal record first in Arkansas, where he was convicted as a teen in a series of crimes. He served 11 years, and then was paroled by then Gov. Mike Huckabee. What more can you tell us about that?

CHRIS GRYGIEL: Well, he -- when he was, I believe 17 or 18, he was sentenced to essentially a life sentence for violent burglaries. He was -- his sentence was then commuted by then Governor Huckabee after 11 years. Governor Huckabee cited his youth at the time of his sentencing.

And, so, he was let go. He, since that time, has had various run-ins with the law in Arkansas and Washington State, after he was commuted from what was essentially a life sentence back in Arkansas.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, tell us more about the more recent circumstances, because I understand he just got out of jail recently on bail.

CHRIS GRYGIEL: Yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: What was the pending charge there?

CHRIS GRYGIEL: Well, he was arrested on assault and child rape charges. He -- initially, when he was arrested, he was being held on a no-bail warrant because of legal complications in Arkansas.

However, Arkansas lifted the no-bail provision. He was able to make bail. And he has been free since that time.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, clearly, you quickly have questions out there about why this man is on the street, correct?

CHRIS GRYGIEL: Absolutely. In Arkansas and here, the questions are how this man, with his -- not only his criminal history, but there are -- there are reports that he had some pretty serious mental issues and in fact had been evaluated by mental health professionals.

You know, the question is -- is how -- how this man was either not in jail or in some sort of mental institution, but, rather, was free when this incident occurred yesterday morning.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, there are some -- there were reports that he was shot and wounded perhaps in the shooting yesterday with the police officers. How much is known about that? Anything known about the extent of his injuries?

CHRIS GRYGIEL: Yes. The police believe he was seriously wounded. It's believed one of the officers fired on him before that officer died. Police believe he was perhaps shot in the chest and believed last night that he was holed up in a house in a Seattle neighborhood. And they surrounded that house for more than six hours before they eventually went in and discovered he wasn't there.

They initially thought he may actually be inside that house and be dead. So, right now, they are searching mountain passes, ferries. They're getting dozens and dozens and dozens of tips. I think they're being overwhelmed by tips. And they're trying to find this man, who they still consider armed and dangerous, and perhaps grievously wounded.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Chris Grygiel of the Seattlepi.com, thank you both -- thank you very much.

CHRIS GRYGIEL: Thank you.