GENE JOHNSON, Associated Press Writer Updated 10p ET, Sunday
PARKLAND, Wash. -- A man with an extensive criminal past -- whose 95-year prison sentence was commuted in Arkansas nearly a decade ago -- was being sought Sunday as a "person of interest" in a deadly ambush on four police officers who were gunned down inside a coffee shop.
Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer told reporters that Maurice Clemmons, 37, was one of several people investigators want to talk to and that he could not be called a suspect at this point.
In a news release, the sheriff's office said Clemmons has an extensive violent criminal history from Arkansas, including aggravated robbery and theft. Clemmons also recently was arrested and charged in Pierce County in Washington state for third-degree assault on a police officer, and second-degree rape of a child.
A Pierce County Sheriff deputy runs to the site where four police officers killed in an ambush at the Forza Coffee Co. near Parkland, Wash., on Sunday, November 29, 2009. Pierce County Sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer told The News Tribune in Tacoma one or two gunmen burst into the Forza Coffee Co. and shot the four uniformed officers as they were working on their laptop computers, then fled the scene. (AP Photo/The News Tribune, Lui Kit Wong/The News Tribune)
In 1989, Clemmons, then 17, was convicted in Little Rock for aggravated robbery. He was paroled in 2000 after then-Gov. Mike Huckabee commuted Clemmons' 95-year prison sentence. Huckabee, who was criticized during his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 for the number of clemencies and commutations he granted, cited Clemmons' age at the time of the sentence.
After his release from prison, Clemmons violated his parole and was returned to prison in July 2001. He was released March 18, 2004, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper.
The four officers were with the 100-member police department of Lakewood, which adjoins the unincorporated area of Parkland, where the shootings took place. The city identified the victims as Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39; Ronald Owens, 37; Tina Griswold, 40; and Greg Richards 42.
Troyer said one of those officers fought with the gunman and may have wounded him before the officer died just outside the doorway. He told reporters that investigators were asking area medical providers to report any people wounded by gunshots.
Troyer said investigators believe two of the officers were shot dead while sitting in the shop, and a third was killed after standing up. The fourth apparently struggled with the gunman out the doorway and "gave up a good fight," getting off a few shots before he was either shot there or succumbed to earlier wounds.
"We believe there was a struggle, a commotion, a fight ... that he fought the guy all the way out the door," Troyer said.
He added, "We hope that he hit him."
Troyer said the gunman entered the coffee house and walked up to the counter as if to place an order. A barista saw a gun when the man opened his jacket and fled out the back door. The man then turned and opened fire on the officers as they sat working on their laptops, killing the three men and one woman in what Troyer described as a targeted ambush.
Troyer said the attack was clearly targeted at the officers, not a robbery gone bad.
"This was more of an execution. Walk in with the specific mindset to shoot police officers," he said.
Troyer said the officers were catching up on paperwork at the beginning of their shifts when they were attacked at 8:15 a.m. Sunday.
"There were marked patrol cars outside and they were all in uniform," Troyer said.
There was no indication of any connection with the Halloween night shooting of a Seattle police officer. The suspect in that shooting remains hospitalized.
"We won't know if it's a copycat effect or what it was until we get the case solved," Troyer said. "We don't even have a suspect ID right now."
Troyer estimated that a couple of hundred officers from the Washington State Patrol and multiple surrounding police agencies in the area were at the crime scene, with some coming on their own time.
On Sunday night, a motorcade of dozens of police cars and motorcycles with lights flashing escorted the bodies of the four officers from the crime scene to the Pierce County medical examiner's office in Tacoma. The motorcade rolled under a giant American flag hanging from fire truck ladders.
"We have no motive at all," Troyer said. "I don't think when we find out what it is, it will be anything that makes any sense or be worth it."
Two employees and a few other customers were in the shop during the attack. All were interviewed by the Pierce County sheriff's investigators.
"Some are in shock. They are very upset," Troyer said. "They are the ones who are going to put together for us how this happened."
The Forza Coffee Shop, part of a popular local chain, is on a side street near McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, about 35 miles south of Seattle. The shop is in a small retail center alongside two restaurants, a cigar store and a nail salon.
Brad Carpenter, founder and owner of Forza Coffee, said his staff was OK and being interviewed by police, and that his main concern was for the families of the police officers.
"I'm a retired police officer, so this really hits close to home for me," said Carpenter, of nearby Gig Harbor.
Troyer said the Lakewood officers were two blocks outside their jurisdiction, and the coffee shop was a popular place for officers from surrounding jurisdictions to meet and share information.
Streets around the coffee shop were blocked off late Sunday morning, and a police helicopter hovered over a large crowd of investigators. TV video showed police taking possession of a pickup truck parked in a grocery store in Parkland.
Troyer said investigators were checking surveillance video from multiple sources, trying to identify a possible getaway car.
Dave Gabrielson, a clerk at Foot Mart about a block away from the coffee shop, told the newspaper all was quiet when he opened the store at 8 a.m. About 30 minutes later, "All of a sudden a million cops were zooming up and down the road," Gabrielson said.
He said he saw officers bring a police dog into a nearby apartment complex.
Last month, Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton was shot and killed Halloween night as he was sitting in a cruiser with trainee Britt Sweeney. Sweeney was grazed in the neck.
Authorities say the man charged with that shooting also firebombed four police vehicles in October as part of a "one-man war" against law enforcement. Christopher Monfort, 41, was arrested after being wounded in a firefight with police days after the Seattle shooting. He remains hospitalized in stable condition, the hospital said Sunday.
The officers killed Sunday were a patrol squad made up of three officers and their sergeant. No threats had been made against them or other officers in the region, sheriff's officials said. Their families have been notified.
"We lost people we care about. We're working to find out who did this and deal with him." Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor told reporters at the scene.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said she was "shocked and horrified" by the killings.
"Our police put their lives on the line every day, and tragedies like this remind us of the risks they continually take to keep our communities safe," she said in a written statement. "My heart goes out to the family, friends and co-workers of these officers, as well as the entire law enforcement community."
According to KING5, a benevolent account has been established for the families of the officers. Donations may be sent to the LPIG Benevolent Fund at PO Box 99579, Lakewood, WA 98499.
Just sad. Lets let the local authorities handle this situation, Concern yourselves to help the families and get through this and stop making stupid comments. Revenge will not get anyone any where or make it right.
Yet another reminder that we are never, on break, off duty or out of some slimmy piece of meat's sights. Again, I am sad to the core at an incident taking the life or lives of my Brothers and Sisters. God Bless them, their families, friends and co-workers.
I pray for the fallen Officers and their families. It breaks my heart when Great Police Officers die in our society. The Officer where not involved in any call for service but they still become a target. I wish that people would think of all of the Officers that serve communities as heros and not just use and abuse us.
Many years ago, while stationed at Madigan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis, I lived in Parkland, and frequented some of the night spots in what was then Lakeland "Village". Parkland was known as a quiet suburb of Tacoma, and nearly crime-free, home of Pacific Lutheran University (and its gorgeous nursing students). It is difficult to picture the changes that have taken place in the news clips I have seen today. With the Pierce County Sheriff's Department the lead agency in this case, I am confident the perp(s) will be apprehended, as it is a well-respected agency. To the families of the victims of this ambush, my heart goes out to you. No one deserves the fate that has befallen our comrades, and you, their loved ones. Please be aware that their brother officers, all over the country, are keeping you in our minds and prayers.
This is gut wrenching. I work for an agency of 1600 sworn officers. We have been very lucky and haven't lost an officer to a suspect shooting in a long time. I could NEVER phathom losing one officer, let alone FOUR. My heart goes out to all people effected by this senseless tragedy. First Ft. Hood and now this? What is this world coming to. To my brothers and sisters currently serving and protecting. BE EVER VIGILENT, BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS AND DON'T GIVE THESE SCUMBAGS A CHANCE TO MAKE YOU A VICTIM. We have all done it. Lunch breaks or gathering at a Daily's or Lil Champ to shoot the breeze for a few minutes. Don't let your guard down and don't be complacent. There is no such thing as ROUTINE in our job or world. It can all go south in the blink of an eye, anytime anywhere by anyone. MY PRAYERS AND THOUGHTS WITH LAKEWOOD PD TONIGHT!!! RIP MY BROTHERS AND SISTER....GOD IS HOLDING YOUR SOUL TONIGHT.
You're right on Kim. I was an officer for 22 years and awareness is so important yet we get lax at times. It depends on the city you work for and how busy it gets. STill motivation must be kept up.
Be blessed Kim.
Hearts go out to the families and the towns people. The entire community suffers when something like this happens. We know what you feel and are going through, Odessa Texas suffered through this when 3 of its own were gunned down senselessly. Thoughts and prayers will always be with the people left behind.