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Clemmons’ run brought out the best, the worst

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Dec. 1, 2009 at 7:58 pm |
December 1, 2009 6:01 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Heroes, villains. Events since the murder of four Lakewood police officers Sunday have produced a fresh crop of both.

The hero of the hour is the Seattle officer who shot and killed Maurice Clemmons in the course of a seemingly routine stop in the Rainier Valley early Tuesday morning. Clemmons – whose possession of one of the Lakewood officers’ guns leaves no question of his guilt – had approached the Seattle officer from behind and may have been trying to ambush him. The officer’s quick-witted response assured that this predator will never again take an innocent life.

Another hero wasn’t alive to hear the news. Clemmons surprised the four Lakewood police with a murderous fusillade in a Parkland coffee shop, but one of them – Greg Richards – managed to reach him, struggle with him and shoot him in the abdomen. A bullet anywhere in the gut is often fatal and always debilitating. Clemmons, who was clearly still in homicidal mode Tuesday morning, might well have gone on to murder others had he not been seriously wounded by the fallen officer.

It’s surprising that Clemmons’ flight from justice was ultimately ended by a single cop on what appears to have been ordinary patrol duty. The killer was the target of what was probably the biggest and most intensive manhunt in state history.

But we now know how he succeeded in eluding so many cops and so many law enforcement agencies: He had help.

Clemmons apparently ran in very crooked circles. He was reportedly hidden by friends and family, in multiple houses, from Parkland to Seattle. According to police, they dressed his wounds, gave him cash, drove him from place to place, helped him lay low. All this while television, newspapers, radio and the Internet were broadcasting accounts of the quadruple-cop-killing and telling the world exactly who the police were looking for.

Police say that a getaway driver carried Clemmons away from the coffee shop, and that he had shown his handguns to two friends the night before and told them of his plans to gun down police. Clemmons’ actions were shocking enough when he looked like a lone, unhinged gunman. It’s yet more shocking to learn that he was apparently surrounded by accomplices willing to protect him after Sunday’s atrocity.

We will never know what further crimes Clemmons might have committed with such help. Credit for that belongs to an alert Seattle officer and a Lakewood officer who got off a crucial shot in his last heroic moment.

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