SEATTLE — In a series of jailhouse phone calls, the man accused of gunning down four police officers in late November told his wife he was a victim of the criminal justice system and would never again be arrested, face a judge or be jailed, The Seattle Times reported Sunday.
Through a public records request, the newspaper obtained more than nine hours of talks Maurice Clemmons had with his wife, Nicole Smith, and others from Oct. 1 to Nov. 17 while he was in the Pierce County Jail. In the 28 conversations, Clemmons shows his state of mind before the deadliest attack on law enforcement in state history.
On Nov. 29, the four Lakewood officers were shot to death in a coffee shop south of Tacoma while doing paperwork before their shifts. After a massive manhunt, Clemmons was killed by a Seattle officer two days later.
In an Oct. 4 recording, Clemmons tells his wife he will need a gun, the newspaper said.
“I ain’t use to pack one, but every day where I go, I’m going to have one right in my front pocket,” he said. If police cross him, “It’s going to be the last time they (say) ‘Hey mister.’ Boom. Dead in they forehead.’ ”
Clemmons, 37, knew his calls were being recorded. Yet during most of the calls, he talks of a killing spree, saying it would be retribution for a lifetime of abuse by police, The Times said.
Clemmons feared spending life in prison and was obsessed with revenge, while Smith, 38, talked of possibly losing her Tacoma home to foreclosure.
Clemmons was a threat to public safety, concluded Craig Adams, a Pierce County deputy prosecuting attorney who reviewed the recordings before releasing them several weeks ago to The Times. But he said officers rarely listen to live jail calls, so there probably was little authorities could have done to prevent the shootings.
“Hindsight is perfect,” Adams said. “He was feeling victimized, rightly or wrongly. He felt framed.”
Prosecutors have held back some recordings as they attempt to prove that other family members and friends helped Clemmons hours after the slayings of police Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Ron Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards.
In some calls yet to be released, Clemmons tells his friends to post bond and, once he’s out, to get him a phone and a gun, Adams said.
When he was released, Clemmons told people on Thanksgiving Day that he planned to kill police, children and as many people as he could, court documents show.
Clemmons made similar remarks nearly two months earlier from jail, The Times said.
As a 16-year-old in Arkansas, Clemmons robbed and assaulted a woman, burglarized a home and was caught with a gun at school. He was sentenced to 108 years in prison.
After he served 11 years, then-Gov. Mike Huckabee granted his appeal for clemency. Released in 2000, he went back to prison for more than two years for a home robbery.
Clemmons believed that as a poor black man he was the victim of a racist criminal justice system.
He moved to Washington state in 2004, where he ran a landscaping business and bought several homes. But by last May, his behavior had become erratic. Court papers say he vandalized his neighborhood, punched two sheriff’s deputies and allegedly raped his 12-year-old stepdaughter.
If convicted, he faced a mandatory life sentence.
Clemmons was again arrested in late September for parole violations. In his first month in jail, he spent 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.
Clemmons repeatedly called his wife, telling her deputies had lied about the assault. He told her he was innocent, blaming others and showing no remorse, The Times said.
The newspaper said Smith would not comment for the story. She has not been charged.
In an Oct. 3 phone call, she tried to appeal to his religious beliefs.
“I’m going to put my faith in God to kill every last one of them that come up on me,” Clemmons replied. “That’s going to be my faith — to kill every last one of them devils. There ain’t no such thing as justice. If there’s no such thing as justice, a brother’s gonna go ‘wild wild West.’ … They did it to me when I was young and now I’m a grown man and it ain’t happening no more.”
Adams, the jail’s legal adviser, said it’s impossible for jail personnel to monitor every call for 1,400 inmates.
In rare cases, he said, deputies will listen to conversations if they suspect a possible crime, but no one had identified Clemmons as a threat while he was in jail.
“He was a routine offender, frankly,” Adams said.
A court-ordered mental-health evaluation on Oct. 19 determined his “thought processes were intact.” Clemmons denied thoughts of harming anyone even as he was sharing his plans over the phone.
“The Lakewood officers were at the wrong place at the wrong time — targets of opportunity,” Adams said.