Courts & Crime

Cop-killing suspect threatened to kill jail workers last spring

TACOMA, Wash. — "I'll kill all you bitches," Maurice Clemmons told the Pierce County Jail workers who were trying to book him, according to court records.

It was May 9, 2009. Clemmons, 37, had been arrested after punching a sheriff's deputy in the face. He was charged with multiple counts of third-degree assault and malicious mischief and, later, second-degree child rape.

Clemmons, the prime suspect in the Sunday slayings of four Lakewood police officers who was killed Tuesday by police officers in Seattle, received a court-ordered mental health evaluation tied to the charges filed in May. The evaluation, obtained by The News Tribune, was completed Oct. 19, five weeks before the shootings.

It was one of the factors considered by Thomas Felnagle, the Superior Court judge who set bail for Clemmons at $150,000.

Felnagle could not be reached for comment Monday. County prosecutors say the bail amount was unusually high, given the underlying charges.

The reported threat to kill jail workers appeared in the evaluation, along with notes describing hallucinations. Clemmons said he had them back in May before his arrest. He remembered seeing “people drinking blood and people eating babies, and lawless on the streets, like people were cannibals.”

Those visions had passed, he said.

Two psychologists from Western State Hospital, Melissa Dannelet and Carl Redick, concluded Clemmons was dangerous.

“He presents with increased risk for future dangerous behavior and for committing future criminal acts jeopardizing public safety and security,” the evaluation states.

The forensic mental health report was ordered by Pierce County Superior Court Judge Kitty-Ann van Doorninck to determine whether Clemmons was mentally competent to stand trial on the rape and assault charges.

On Nov. 6, van Doorninck signed an order finding Clemmons competent. She later ordered Western State Hospital to evaluate Clemmons again to determine if he was insane or had a diminished mental capacity at the time of the alleged rape and assault. That opinion is pending.

Clemmons’ attorney on those charges – Daniel J. Murphy Jr. – notified the court that he intended to pursue an insanity or diminished-capacity defense for his client.

At the time of his arrest, Clemmons allegedly made “religiously-themed comments, told the officer President Obama and Lebron James are his brothers, Oprah (Winfrey) is his sister and referred to himself as ‘the beast,’” the forensic report states.

Dannelet and Redick wrote that Clemmons “denied thoughts of harming any officers or anyone specific when pointedly asked.”

He went on to say he had “no faith in the justice system” and that he thought he was being “maliciously persecuted because I’m black and they believe the police,” according to the report.

Though dangerous, Clemmons was sane enough to know how court worked.

There was a prosecutor and a defense attorney, a judge and a jury and eventually a verdict, he said. He knew the child rape charge was a possible third strike that could send him to prison for life.

The psychologists found him competent to stand trial, not a candidate for involuntary commitment. On Nov. 24, he bailed out of jail on a $190,000 bond – the most recent example of his 20-year drift through the criminal justice system.

Records of that journey, stretching from Arkansas to Washington, show a series of standard decisions based on moments in time, before any police officers were shot, when Clemmons was just an average thug with an average record – a stocky, small-time thief with a nasty disposition who spent 13 years in Arkansas prison.

His alleged role in the police shootings has prompted a national round of second-guessing and scapegoating.

The targets include former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who commuted Clemmons’ prison sentence in 2000, and Pierce County Superior Court Judges John McCarthy and Thomas Felnagle, who respectively set and granted the bail bond Clemmons received a week ago, before he walked out of the Pierce County Jail.

The odyssey started in 1989, when Clemmons, then 16, was convicted of eight felonies in Arkansas, including aggravated robbery and burglary. He was ordered to serve consecutive rather than concurrent terms. Total sentence: 108 years in prison.

“He was a mean SOB,” Larry Jegley, prosecutor in Pulaski County, Ark., said Monday. Clemmons was transferred from a juvenile court to adult court, and faced a jury trial. He was young, but jurors saw something bad in him, the prosecutor said.

“Juries are pretty smart,” Jegley said. “If they want to attribute something to the relative youth of an individual and all that, they’ll do it. The flip side is that they saw in Maurice Clemmons what the juvenile judge saw who transferred him to adult court: grave potential for violence and criminal behavior.”

Records from Arkansas show that Clemmons, at age 27, applied for clemency in 1999, after he’d served 10 years of his 108-year sentence. The clemency application is a seven-page form.

One question reads, “What is your reason for requesting executive clemency at this time?”

Clemmons answered with a single word: “Mercy.”

He wrote his own argument. He said he had robbed a house when no one was home, and stolen a cell phone (the victim was an Arkansas state trooper, according to other records). He said he and two accomplices had taken a woman’s purse. He said he was 16 at the time of crimes. He said he’d just moved from Seattle to Arkansas as a teen, had no friends and fell in with the wrong crowd.

“There is absolutely no excuse/justification whatsoever for my past criminal behavior which ultimately led me to commit the crimes which led me to prison, and of which I now eleven years after the fact, seek executive clemency,” he wrote.

“Where once stood a young sixteen year old misguided fool, whose own life he was unable to rule, now stands a 27-year-old man, who has learned through the school of hard knocks to appreciate and respect the rights of others.”

Huckabee’s four-member clemency board gave a unanimous recommendation for clemency – a commutation and a reduced sentence. Sixth Circuit Judge Marion G. Humphrey supported it, adding a personal note.

“I favor a time cut for Maurice Clemmons,” Humphrey wrote. “Mr. Clemmons was 16 years old when his cases began in this court. I do not know why the previous judge ran his sentences consecutively, but concurrent sentences would have been sufficient.”

Jegley, the Arkansas prosecutor, doesn’t recall whether anyone asked his opinion. He and other prosecutors in Arkansas chafed at Huckabee’s penchant for commuting sentences – a tendency that sparked a long-running feud with the governor’s office.

“My bet is we didn’t ever get notice,” he said. “’Cause we’d have objected.”

Huckabee commuted the sentence on May 2, 2000. The decision reduced Clemmons’ sentence to 47 years and rendered him eligible for parole immediately.

That started a new process: an appearance before the parole board. Judge Humphrey weighed in again, writing, “I strongly support parole in this case.”

Jegley got notice this time. His office objected, according to Arkansas records. The objection was overruled. Clemmons was free.

“He walked out in August and was back in trouble in less than a year,” Jegley said.

The trouble was a reported robbery in 2001. Clemmons was arrested again on parole violations, but not immediately charged. The case wasn’t great, Jegley recalled.

“There were service problems on that,” he said. “There were some problems proof-wise, once we started really reaching down in and probing.”

As a result, Clemmons wasn’t served with charges until 2004, three years after the crime was committed. Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors had taken too long to file their case. The charges were dismissed.

Clemmons applied for parole again in 2003. Again, Jegley’s office objected. Again, the objection was overruled. Clemmons was paroled. He applied for an out-of-state transfer to Washington and got it, arriving in 2004.

He started a landscaping business, according to his statements in his mental health evaluation. He moved in with his wife and had a child with her. There were two other children in the family.

Gradually, he bought five houses – one in Arkansas, four in Washington. He had no arrests, no troubles with the law, until May of this year, and the incident that led to charges of third-degree assault and malicious mischief, along with the child rape.

When Clemmons appeared in Pierce County Superior Court, the record showed a defendant with a knot of Arkansas convictions in 1990, a commuted sentence followed by parole violations in 2001 and charges of robbery that had been dismissed in 2004.

In the state of Washington, he had no record at all. Deputy prosecutor Angelica McGaha requested $200,000 bail at the initial appearance. Judge McCarthy reduced it slightly to $150,000.

“That was high but appropriate in this case,” said Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist.

It was high because the offenses were low-level in the context of day-to-day court proceedings. The initial bail of $150,000 was “much higher than usual,” said deputy prosecutor Grant Blinn, who supervises the prosecutor’s special assault unit. The calculation reflected Clemmons’ prior criminal convictions.

“A typical child rape-2 defendant is summonsed into court, not even arrested,” Blinn said Monday. “A lot of them are released on their personal recognizance.”

On July 2, local prosecutors received word from Arkansas parole officials. They were requesting a no-bail hold on Clemmons. Three weeks later, on July 23, Arkansas backed out for unclear reasons. Jegley, the Arkansas prosecutor, could not explain the decision, saying only that it didn’t come from his office.

In Pierce County, Lindquist noted that the Arkansas decision left an open door. The Washington constitution and local court rules dictate that all offenses short of capital crimes are “bailable.” That means there’s a “presumption of release” unless prosecutors successfully argue the defendant is a flight risk or a danger to the community.

Prosecutors made that argument twice in pre-trial motions.

“The whole issue of bail would have been moot had Arkansas not revoked the no-bail hold,” Lindquist said.

On July 24, Clemmons’ attorney moved to reduce the bail amount. Prosecutors successfully argued against it.

In November, prosecutors declared their intention to label Clemmons a persistent offender. That meant a conviction on the child-rape charge could lead to a third strike and life in prison under Washington’s three-strikes law.

While that argument raised the prospect of higher bail, Lindquist said it wasn’t so simple. Prosecutors intended to argue that Clemmons’ crimes in Arkansas were the equivalent of strikes in Washington. There was no certainty.

“Yes, that is a factor in bail requests,” Lindquist said. “But this was not a clear third strike. This was a case where we were going to argue that it was a third strike. The defense was certainly going to argue that it was not.”

The final bail decision came down on Nov. 6, approved by Judge Felnagle. The amount: $190,000. Working through a Chehalis company, Clemmons posted the bond. In cash terms, that meant he and his associates paid the company $19,000, and the company paid $190,000 to the court.

The conditions of his release included an order not to possess guns.