Inside Opinion

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Tag: Maurice Clemmons


Maurice Clemmons and the mystery bullet

For me, an abiding mystery of the Maurice Clemmons case is how he managed to keep moving for two days after shooting four Lakewood police officers last November.

Greg Richards, one of the victims, shot Clemmons in the gut that day with a large-caliber police handgun designed to wreak massive havoc inside the human body. I would have expected not merely a disabling but an exquisitely agonizing wound.

Most of us figured Clemmons would be found dead somewhere after sustaining that hit. Yet he got himself patched up (with duct tape, no less) and not only managed to keep running

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A criminal gang merits criminal conspiracy charges

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

There’s never been a spectacle quite like it in a state court.

Thirty-two accused criminal conspirators – alleged members of the Hilltop Crips – crowded into one courtroom, with 30 defense attorneys, four prosecutors and more than 20 law-enforcement officers. Outside, sheriff’s deputies patrolling the lobbies and exterior of the County-City Building.

That’s what a major conspiracy case against a street gang looks like. Other states have successfully pursued such cases, as have federal prosecutors, but this is a first for Washington’s criminal justice system.

The strategy is promising, and the target looks well-chosen.

The Hilltop Crips – whose origins go back to the 1980s – have been described as Tacoma’s oldest criminal gang. A police offensive devastated them in the 1990s, but they’ve been mounting an aggressive comeback in recent years.

It must be emphasized that the “Hilltop” in the gang’s name is an anachronism. The Hilltop, once plagued with gang violence, is now one of the safest parts of Tacoma. For the most part, these thugs live elsewhere and commit their crimes elsewhere.
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One Clemmons is enough; fix that compact

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

In attempting to deal with cop-killer Maurice Clemmons, Washington state got shamelessly played by Arkansas.

When Arkansas officials shipped Clemmons here in 2004, they somehow neglected to inform Washington’s corrections people that he’d been convicted of robbery, theft and burglary in that state in 1989.

Then, after Clemmons turned violent last spring, the folks in Little Rock suddenly lost interest in enforcing the terms of his original parole. They withdrew their warrant for his extradition, allowing him to post bail in November, walk out of jail in Tacoma – and gun down four Lakewood police officers.

Washington put a hold on further parolee transfers from Arkansas until better safeguards are in place. And now Washington’s in the wrong?

Apparently so, according to the Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision, an agreement that governs the transfer of parolees among all 50 states.
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House struck right balance on bail bill

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Cop killer Maurice Clemmons, as cold-blooded and ruthless as his crimes were, is not reason enough to change the state’s criminal justice laws.

He can’t be. Anti-crime legislation aimed squarely at Clemmons would ultimately fail to reform the system in a thoughtful and effective way. No two criminals behave in the same way; no two cases are identical.

The test of any proposed reform should be: Is it merely a response to the last horrific fact pattern, or does it anticipate the huge variances in criminal acts? More importantly, would the change be warranted even in the absence of tragedy?

By both measures, the proposed constitutional amendment passed by the House last week is a winner.

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No sure remedy to anti-cop violence

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and lawmakers have no choice. With six police officers gunned down in three separate attacks since the end of October – a horror unprecedented in this state – Washington’s political leaders must do something to prevent a replay.

Gregoire and others have outlined several proposals, some of which sound promising.

One is a constitutional amendment that would allow judges to deny bail to defendants facing a possible life sentence under Washington’s three strikes law. This conceivably could have kept Maurice Clemmons – the murderer of four Lakewood officers – behind bars. Though charged with felonies that might have sent him away for life under three strikes, he made a stiff $190,000 bail with seemingly little difficulty.

Great care must be taken in drafting this amendment. Bail is a constitutional right – part of the presumption of innocence. A system that summarily tossed defendants into jail until trial, or imposed impossibly high bails, would be operating under a presumption of guilt. If eventually found innocent, a defendant would already have served an unjust sentence.

Constitutionally permissible exceptions would be those cases in which a defendant likely to be found guilty has absolutely nothing to lose by absconding. That might include any prosecution that potentially involves a life sentence. An amendment would make sense, so long as it still permitted a judge to make factual judgments about individual cases, including the strength of the prosecution’s evidence. Presumption of innocence is too precious to throw away, even in the angry aftermath of these outrageous crimes.
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Washington pays twice for parolee trade deficit

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

The assassinations of four Lakewood police officers last month has revealed many ugly truths about the criminal justice system.

The latest: Cop killer Maurice Clemmons, who moved here as an Arkansas parolee, is far from the only problem foisted on Washington by other states.

Washington, it would seem, is a popular destination for ex-cons. As The News Tribune’s Sean Robinson reported Monday, the state has responsibility for supervising 2,393 offenders from other states. But only 1,046 of this state’s offenders are doing their probation in other states.

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Don’t blame McCarthy and Felnagle for lack of clairvoyance on Clemmons

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

It’s hard to sustain outrage against a dead man. Maurice Clemmons is beyond the reach of public anger, so the anger has to go looking for someone else.

Targets of convenience: the two Pierce County Superior Court judges, John McCarthy and Thomas Felnagle, who allowed Clemmons to post bond and walk out of jail before killing four Lakewood police officers Sunday.

Anger doesn’t have a brain, though. McCarthy and Felnagle are the wrong targets. If we’re looking to pin blame, the best candidate at this point looks like the Arkansas Department of Corrections.
It is indeed true that McCarthy on July 2 set a bail of $190,000 for several felony charges against Clemmons, including second-degree child rape, third-degree assault and malicious mischief. By all accounts, though, $190,000 was a high bail, given the circumstances. Even so – and this is a crucial point – McCarthy still ordered Clemmons held without bail because Arkansas had issued a warrant to extradite him.

Leave aside the warrant for a moment. On the Washington counts, denying bail wasn’t an option. The state constitution decrees that defendants have the right to post bail for all but capital charges. Keep in mind, Clemmons was not a cop-killer on July 2. He was just one of an unending stream of defendants – many charged with serious crimes, including child rape – flowing relentlessly through the court system. Neither McCarthy nor anyone else had a crystal ball to warn them that this particular defendant would explode five months later and gun down four officers.
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Signs of grief

Stuck at a stoplight on Steilacoom Blvd and South Tacoma Way today, I couldn’t help but notice a half dozen businessmen putting up a very large sign. They secured it to trees that line the busy boulevard, and I watched as they moved the sign up a few inches and then down a few inches in an effort to make it straight. The large letters on the sign were in Korean, so initially I couldn’t make out what it said, but then a few of the men stepped back, and I saw the pictures of the four faces that have become so familiar over these recent and sad days.

After the sign was in place, and respectfully straight, the men stood talking. Their heads hung low, no doubt feeling like the rest of us, depressed by the inescapable reality that people who dedicated their lives to serving and protecting a community had been murdered. I decided to pull over and, if only for a minute, stand in solidarity with them.

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