Inside Opinion

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Tag: Maurice Clemmons

April
9th

The unbelievable crime of Skeeter Manos

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Imagine a briefcase full of cash on the sidewalk with the owner’s name on it. It’s open. People are walking by. What are the chances someone will pilfer some bills when he thinks no one’s looking?

That’s roughly what happened to the millions the public donated in an outpouring of sympathy for the families of the four Lakewood officers gunned down by Maurice Clemmons in 2009.
All told, $3.2 million in contributions flowed into the coffers of a charity created by the Lakewood Police Independent Guild. Skeeter Manos, an officer who’d insinuated himself into the finances of both the guild and the charity, had his hand in the till, embezzling $151,000 from – literally – the widows and orphans of four fellow cops.

A post-mortem of this shocking crime has been constructed by The News Tribune’s Christian Hill. Published Sunday, it details the negligence – particularly on the part of guild President Brian Wurts – that let Manos help himself to money he used for car gear, tickets to Las Vegas, electronics and other dainties.

Manos’ embezzlement is a cautionary tale for any institution entrusted with large sums of money. The police charity should have routed the money directly into a professionally managed trust fund. (It’s in one now.)

Instead, much of it wound up passing through the hands of Manos, who was treasurer of the guild and had begun skimming its funds months before Mark Renninger, Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards were gunned down in a Parkland coffee shop. The killings created an opening and Manos was poised to walk into it.

The deaths of the four had hit the Lakewood Police Department like a bomb; its officers were stunned and grieved – and simultaneously deluged with hundreds of thousands of dollars.
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Nov.
27th

Cops reacted with honor to killings of their peers

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

A year after the slaughter of four Lakewood officers in a Parkland coffee shop, the law has seen some big improvements.

The Legislature and voters amended the Washington Constitution to let judges deny bail to defendants facing possible life sentences – as Maurice Clemmons faced even before he killed Mark Renninger, Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards.

And Washington officials have negotiated far tougher procedures in the Interstate Compact on Adult Offender Supervision, whose loopholes allowed Arkansas to export Clemmons to Washington without much warning – then cancel its own warrant for his extradition.

But one thing doesn’t appear to have changed: the professional restraint of Puget Sound police officers.

Officers in the region’s various jurisdictions have shot suspects – including Clemmons himself – in the aftermath of the cop-killings a year ago. Some have suspected them of being quicker to defend themselves with deadly force after seeing four of their fellow cops gunned down in the Parkland café and two more killed in separate incidents.

But that’s selective perception. Officers were using force – with justification and occasionally without – before Clemmons. They haven’t become trigger-happy since then.
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Nov.
4th

Voters’ message: No taxes, no bail, no privatization

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Washington voters are an independent lot. There’s no way to put a party label on the way they voted on Tuesday’s ballot measures.

As they’ve demonstrated time and time again, they don’t like taxes and will repeal them, shrink them or prevent them almost every chance they get.

By approving Initiative 1053 almost two-to-one (as of Thursday), Washingtonians emphatically forbade the Legislature from enacting any new tax without either a two-thirds supermajority in both the House and Senate, or a vote of the people. The clear message: Don’t even think about squeezing more money out of us in the pit of this economic hell.

Initiative 1098 – the proposed income tax on high earners – got crushed by almost the same margin. Voters were rightly suspicious that the Legislature might spread that tax to lower income brackets in the next hard economy.

The fate of I-1098 will probably spook lawmakers away from the concept of a state income tax for another generation. If only voters had been offered a far better version: a constitutionally capped income tax that would reduce – not add to – the state’s excessive sales tax.

While they were at it, Washingtonians repealed the bottled water-and-soda tax the Legislature used to wire a balanced budget together in April. That means the state’s multi-billion-dollar fiscal crisis just got $272 million deeper.

Voters to Legislature: Deal with it.
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Sep.
27th

Bail amendment a measured response to massacre

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

This year’s general election ballot would most certainly be one question shorter had Maurice Clemmons not killed four Lakewood police officers in cold blood last fall.

On Nov. 2, voters will decide Engrossed Substitute House Joint Resolution 4220 which proposes to give judges greater leeway in denying bail to defendants.

The measure – also known as the Remember Lakewood Constitutional Amendment – probably would have never made it out of the Legislature but for the fact that Clemmons murdered cops six days after bailing out of jail.

But its origin in the crimes’ angry aftermath isn’t a strike against it. Much debate and compromise went into crafting the proposed amendment, which is far more measured than proponents’ opening offer.

Law enforcement and Gov. Chris Gregoire first wanted to give judges sweeping authority to deny bail whenever they deemed the public at risk – a standard similar to the federal system’s. The Legislature pushed back with proposals to target only those dangerous defendants charged with the most serious crimes.

Legislators and the governor met in the middle with a proposed amendment that would apply only to those defendants charged with the most serious felonies.

Sponsors estimate the amendment could affect roughly 4,100 of the more than 53,000 criminal defendants prosecuted each year in Washington state – but only if a judge first finds “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant has a “propensity for violence” and poses a “substantial likelihood” of danger to the community.

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June
8th

A court’s baffling suppression of police reports

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Huh?

That’s how we reacted a few weeks ago to a judge’s order to block the release of law enforcement reports about the shooting of four Lakewood police officers last November. Such documents are routinely released – for very good reason – once officers have caught the suspects and wrapped up the investigation.

Susan Serko of the Pierce County Superior Court got the law wrong May 20 when she sided with defense lawyers representing the seven people accused of assisting cop-killer Maurice Clemmons. The attorneys persuaded her to stop the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department from releasing more than 2,000 pages relating to the cases, arguing that publicizing the information might deny their clients a fair trial.

This week, Serko delivered a double-huh decision. Admitting that she’d misunderstood key points of law in her original ruling, she still reaffirmed the ruling. The Seattle Times, which – joined by The News Tribune – was trying to pry the reports loose, plans to appeal. Serko’s decision cries out for reversal.

The Washington Supreme Court has already upheld pretrial disclosure of investigative documents – in a 1999 decision that overrode an earlier ruling Serko inexplicably relied on. But let’s leave precedents aside and consider what’s at stake for justice in general.
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April
12th

Officers’ families hurt their own cause

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

The South Sound has showered the families of four slain Lakewood police officers with love, support and money. But the community’s generosity is not so spent that it can’t afford one more gift: the benefit of the doubt.

Let’s accept at face value what the officers’ families say their motivation was for threatening $182 million in claims against Pierce County for the officers’ deaths.

The families announced the claims on Thursday, apparently unaware they were about to touch off a firestorm. The claims shocked Pierce County residents. For many of those residents, word of the pending claims came with an implied message: You didn’t do enough to honor the officers’ memories and comfort their families.

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April
9th

UPDATED: Say it ain’t so, Lakewood police survivors

UPDATE: At least three of the families have now decided to abandon their claims for damages against Pierce County due to the public outcry.

Never in the history of the South Sound, perhaps, have so few squandered so much good will in so little time.

Check out the online comments on Friday’s story about the $192 million claim against Pierce County filed by the survivors of the four Lakewood officers killed in Parkland last November. I can’t remember when I’ve seen our readers express so much raw disappointment about a local event.

There may not have been

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April
6th

Badge, gun, accountability

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

It doesn’t happen often, but police are sometimes too quick to pull the trigger. Every use of lethal force demands hard scrutiny.

The scrutiny usually brings reassurance, as it has with the spike of suspect-shootings since five officers were gunned down in Pierce County late last year.

Candidates for law enforcement go through serious psychological screening and extensive training before they are entrusted with a badge and gun, which is a very good thing. Were commissioned officers as jittery and vindictive as many civilians, the body count would likely have been considerably

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