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Pierce County judge declines to throw out evidence against Clemmons’ alleged getaway driver

Post by Adam Lynn / The News Tribune on Jan. 25, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
January 25, 2011 5:35 pm

A Pierce County judge Tuesday refused to suppress evidence collected against Maurice Clemmons’ alleged getaway driver through a search warrant defense attorneys said was improperly obtained by law enforcement.

Superior Court Judge Frederick Fleming, after hearing evidence over three days, declared the warrant valid and the arrest of Dorcus Allen proper.

Allen is charged as an accomplice with four counts of aggravated first-degree murder. Prosecutors allege he drove Clemmons to and from the vicinity of a Parkland coffee shop where Clemmons killed four Lakewood police officers in November 2009.

Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Greg Richards and Ronald Owens died in the attack. A Seattle police officer shot Clemmons to death about 40 hours later following a large manhunt.

Allen, who’s pleaded not guilty, faces life in prison without the possibility of release if convicted as charged.

His defense team, Mary K. High and Peter Mazzone, challenged the validity of Allen’s arrest and the issuance of a warrant used to search the Federal Way motel room where law enforcement officers took him into custody two days after the shootings.

High and Mazzone argued law enforcement officers did not have probable cause to arrest Allen and misled a judge to get the warrant.

High specifically pointed to statements in an affidavit police presented to Superior Court Judge James Orlando that Clemmons had been staying at the motel and using a car parked outside. Neither of those assertions turned out to be true.

“It was wrong. It was erroneous. It was misleading,” High told Fleming during her closing argument Tuesday. “That was reckless.”

Deputy prosecutor Stephen Penner countered that there was no malicious intent on the part of police to mislead Orlando when they requested permission to search the motel room and that there was enough factual information in the affidavit to justify the warrant.

Penner added that Allen’s arrest also was appropriate as investigators had information he might have been Clemmons’ getaway driver and justifiably believed he might be armed.

“This was text-book probable cause,” he said.

Fleming agreed.

He said while the search warrant affidavit might have been “unartfully drawn” it was not meant to intentionally deceive Orlando.

The judge also said officers who went to the motel had a legal right to arrest Allen in his room even though they had no arrest warrant because he was being sought for questioning in a grave crime and officer’s were rightfully concerned about their own safety.

“They weren’t going to put their lives at risk, and they shouldn’t have,” Fleming said.

Allen is scheduled to go to trial in March.

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