SEATTLE — A lone officer on patrol in the middle of the night Tuesday spotted a stolen car, its hood up and engine running, and pulled over to check it out. As the patrolman sat in his cruiser, a burly man with a large mole on his cheek came up from behind.
The officer turned, stepped outside and recognized the most wanted man in the Pacific Northwest — the ex-con accused of gunning down four cops at a coffee shop.
Moments later, Maurice Clemmons, 37, lay dead in the street, shot by the patrolman after Clemmons made a move for a gun he had taken from one of the slain officers, police said.
Clemmons’ death brought to an end two days of fear across the Seattle-Tacoma area and one of the biggest manhunts the region has ever seen. Dozens of police officers milled around at the scene afterward, some solemnly shaking hands and patting each other on the back.
“Good thing he wasn’t able to get the gun out here or we might have had a different ending to this whole thing,” Pierce County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Ed Troyer said. “The officer in Seattle did a good job of making sure he went home safe tonight.”
Clemmons eluded capture thanks to family and friends who provided him with shelter, cell phones, cash and first aid for the severe belly wound he suffered when one of the dying officers in Sunday’s coffee-shop rampage got off a shot, police said. Six to seven of those associates were being arrested Tuesday.
Among them, police said, was Darcus D. Allen, a convicted murderer who served in prison with Clemmons in Arkansas and allegedly drove the getaway truck after the coffee shop rampage; two men who later traveled with Clemmons as he eluded police; and Clemmons’ sister, who bandaged him up and gave him a lift part way to Seattle.
It wasn’t immediately known if she or Allen had attorneys; the other two have pleaded not guilty.
“Some are friends, some are acquaintances, some are partners in crime, some are relatives. Now they’re all partners in crime,” Troyer said.
He said Lakewood police officer Greg Richards was the one who fought with and wounded Clemmons on Sunday.
Troyer said today that Richards fought with Clemmons after the three other officers were gunned down and before Richards died near the shop’s entrance.
Troyer said paramedics were stunned that Clemmons lived as long as he did with the bullet wound. It had been packed with gauze and patched with duct tape.
It was not clear exactly where Clemmons was while on the run. Police rushed from place to place, following tips that often came up empty or yielded only accomplices. They searched homes and apartments around the city and cordoned off a park after a report of blood in a restroom.
On Sunday, Clemmons briefly took refuge at a house in the city’s well-to-do Leschi neighborhood, slipping away before police surrounded the home in an all-night siege that ended when SWAT officers stormed the place and realized he wasn’t there.
Clemmons has a violent, erratic past, and authorities in Washington state and Arkansas — where then-Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2000 commuted his 108-year prison sentence for armed robbery and other offenses — are facing tough questions about why an apparently violent and deranged man was out on the street.
On Sunday, six days after posting bail in Washington on charges of raping a child, Clemmons walked into the coffee shop in suburban Tacoma and killed four uniformed Lakewood police officers as they caught up on paperwork on their laptops, police said.
“The only motive that we have is he decided he was going to go kill police officers,” Troyer said.
Investigators also reported that Clemmons told others the night before the shooting that he was going to kill police and they should watch the news, but they wrote it off as “crazy-talk.”
In a statement posted on the conservative Newsmax.com Web site, Huckabee said: “I take full responsibility for my actions of nine years ago. I acted on the facts presented to me in 2000. If I could have possibly known what Clemmons would do nine years later, I obviously would have made a different decision. But if the same file was presented to me today, I would have likely made the same decision.”
The Seattle patrol officer who killed Clemmons, Benjamin L. Kelly, 39, a seven-year law enforcement veteran, will be placed on leave, which is standard procedure after a shooting.
The officer was driving in a working-class neighborhood of south Seattle at about 2:45 a.m. today when he came across a stolen car, its engine running, Assistant Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel said.
As he sat in his cruiser, beginning paperwork on the car, he sensed movement, turned and saw someone approaching, Pugel said. The officer stepped out and immediately recognized the man, whose face had been all over TV and mugshot fliers memorized by every officer in the region.
The patrolman ordered Clemmons to freeze and show his hands, but he kept moving, and the officer fired several rounds, hitting the man at least twice, Pugel said.
Police said Clemmons would have died eventually of the gunshot wound he suffered in the coffee-shop rampage.
At the time of his arrest in Washington state earlier this year, investigators said Clemmons had visions that he was Jesus Christ and that the world was on the verge of the apocalypse. He also “told the officer President Obama and Lebron James are his brothers, Oprah (Winfrey) is his sister and referred to himself as ‘the beast,”’ according to court papers obtained by The News Tribune of Tacoma.
A psychological evaluation in October found he was a risk to public safety, but not enough of one to justify committing him, the newspaper reported.
Contributing to this report were Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Curt Woodward in Tacoma and Donna Blankinship and George Tibbits in Seattle.