10 months later, the family of Maurice Clemmons is still living in a rental home, waiting for their claim to be settled so they can rebuild not just their house, but their very lives
The house once stood as a symbol of doing the right thing, of protecting one’s neighbors.
Now, it’s just an eyesore.
The windows are boarded up. The walls stripped down to studs, and the floors to exposed, scarred wood, at the city’s orders and expense. Everything that represented family and music, travels and tradition has been hauled off to a storage unit because of the tear-gas residue that settled on it that November night.
“I never imagined that this is what I was getting myself into,” Chrisceda Clemmons said as we stood inside her Leschi home recently. “And not just myself, but my family.”
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It has been 10 months since Clemmons told her nephew, Maurice, that he could not seek refuge here after shooting and killing four Lakewood police officers the morning of Nov. 29. He had been on the run all day — tended to and transported by a sorry band of relatives and friends who would later face charges — when he called her.
“I am coming to your house,” Maurice Clemmons told his aunt. “I have killed four policemen and I need a place to rest and hide.”
Chrisceda Clemmons, 46, and her partner, Michael Shantz, 58, refused him but sensed he would come anyway. So they sent the rest of their family to stay with Shantz’s two older sons and went to the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct to say that Maurice Clemmons was headed to Leschi.
Police descended on the house for what would be an all-night siege, launching some 70 canisters of tear gas. They broke windows, damaged walls and furniture; everything was coated in a toxic residue that has to be professionally removed.
In the days after the siege, after Maurice Clemmons was spotted, then shot and killed by a Seattle police officer, the community embraced the family with cards, donations and funds in their name.
(Peggy Herman of the Leschi Community Council declined to say how much the family received in donations but called the response “phenomenal.” Shantz would only say that the money was spent in three weeks for everything from food to replacement clothes.)
They had done the right thing, was the thinking. We need to do the same for them.
City officials, too, recognized what the family had done and pledged to care for the family and expedite their claim with the city.
And yet, 10 months later, the family is still living in a rental home, waiting for their claim to be settled so they can rebuild not just their house, but their very lives.
“We’re nervous; we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Chrisceda Clemmons said. “The city could still choose not to do anything and then we would be homeless.
“We did the right thing by protecting the community, and we just want to be back,” she said. The Seattle City Council reviewed the family’s claim two weeks ago during a closed, executive session. The council is scheduled to meet again on the issue within the next month.
“All I can say is that I am confident that the city is negotiating with the family in good faith,” Councilmember Tim Burgess said when I asked where things stand. “It is extremely complicated.”
At issue is whether the city is responsible for the damage done to the house in the Leschi neighborhood, and if so, at what cost?
Bruce Hori, director of risk management for the city of Seattle, called the city’s responsibility “a legal determination.”
“There’s probably an argument that the city owes this,” Hori said, “and there’s probably an argument that the city doesn’t owe this.”
Still, the city “tries to be fair with people” and pays what it owes them.
“The city is working with the family to put them back into the position they were in before anything happened,” Hori said. “They are not responsible for what [Maurice Clemmons] did, so they were put in a rough spot.
“I want this over, too,” he said. “I want them to get their lives back, but I also want to do my job.”
In the meantime, the family is holding things together.
They are all living in a rental house. At $3,400 a month, Shantz reasoned that it was an economical way to house the family, instead of putting them in a residential hotel. The city approved the move and has covered the rent.
And, since Shantz and Clemmons have been unable to perform as their musical group Bakra Bata or do their other jobs, the city also paid their mortgage for six months.
Shantz had been teaching steel-drum classes in the Seattle School District at the time of the siege. After months of negotiations, the city compensated Shantz for his 18 damaged drums. He has ordered replacements, but it will take six to 12 months to fill the order, and about that long to get his teaching programs reinstated.
He also does construction work, but his tools, too, were exposed. The city gave him an advance on new tools, but he’s still rebuilding his 25-year stock and “limping along.”
Chrisceda Clemmons owned a clothing store in her Arkansas hometown and did her buying here. Her inventory was damaged, and she hasn’t had the funds or the time to go back and manage the store, so she closed it.
Merica Whitehall, 42, met the Shantz-Clemmons family in 1992 and started to perform with and manage their musical group. She and her daughter moved to Seattle and into the Leschi house 15 years ago.
“It was a practical way for a bunch of artists to live in a good neighborhood and build and create community,” Whitehall said.
An adjunct professor who helps run the children’s literacy program at Seattle University, Whitehall prides herself on keeping control and making good choices for herself and her daughter, Allanah, 16.
“Now,” she said, “I feel powerless.”
Whitehall doesn’t miss her things as much as the feeling of having them around her. Her daughter’s room, the girl’s medals and ribbons from track meets …
“Everything’s taken away,” Whitehall said.
Shantz’s older son, Absalom, 28, said the events of the past 10 months have “muted” him.
“There’s an air of uncertainly; you’re stuck in a fog and you’re not sure which way is out,” he said.
Teo Shantz, 22, still plays drums around town, so his connection to the arts community hasn’t suffered. He wishes he could say the same for his family
“This has been like any dramatic event,” he said. “As a strong individual, you go into it headfirst. But the effects of it don’t start reaching you until later on; how deep it is.
“This has stalled the progression of our family.”
Clemmons’ and Shantz’s son, Atticus, 14, made the honor roll last spring. He’s now pulling D’s and C’s.
“I just didn’t want to do anything,” he said.
He has lost friends he said, “because of their parents. Basically, they thought I was a bad influence, a bad person and our family was messed up,” he said.
Despite the way she was rushed out of the Leschi house last year, Juno Shantz, 8, feels safer there than anywhere.
“I miss everything,” she said, then turned to her mother.
“What is going to happen?”
The family will meet with Hori today and hope to come away with an answer to that question.
“What we want is a fair opportunity to rebuild our lives,” Shantz said. “And that’s enough for us to have to suffer.”
Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nice day to hammer, isn’t it?