A 37-year-old Tacoma man, Maurice Clemmons, is being sought for questioning in the execution-style shooting of four Lakewood police officers this morning, according to two law-enforcement sources.
A 37-year-old Tacoma man, Maurice Clemmons, is being sought for questioning in the execution-style shooting of four Lakewood police officers this morning, according to law-enforcement officials.
Clemmons was identified as a person of interest in the slayings, but not as a suspect.
Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said Clemmons had been seen in the area of the shootings at the time they occurred.
Clemmons, who was recently released from jail, has an extensive criminal record in Pierce County and Arkansas, court records show. He currently faces eight criminal charges in Washington state.
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The four officers were killed at about 8:15 a.m. by a scruffy-looking man who walked into a coffee shop and opened fire. The officers — three men and one woman — were found dead by deputies who arrived at Forza Coffee at 11401 Steele St. S., Troyer said.
Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards were identified as the officers who were shot.
Troyer said the investigation into the shootings indicate that the gunman “flat-out executed” two of the officers. One officer then stood up, tried to go for the gunman and was shot, Troyer said.
The fourth officer was involved in some kind of struggle with the gunman.
“What happened in there wasn’t just a shooting. One of the officers managed to fight his way with the suspect, wrestled him out the door when he was shot and killed,” Troyer said.
Before that fourth officer was killed, Troyer said, he apparently managed to fire at the shooter.
Troyer said if the gunman was shot, he could be traveling some distance to get care. Troyer suggested the man may try to visit a medical facility and claim he had suffered an accidental gunshot wound.
The officers who were shot made up one patrol unit, including a sergeant.
“It’s carnage out front everywhere,” Troyer said, describing the front of the coffee shop. “It’s like a bad horror movie, it’s horrible.”
The officers were in uniform, including bulletproof vests, and were working on their laptop computers as they prepared to start their day shifts, Troyer said.
“This was a targeted, selective ambush,” Troyer said.
Humberto Navarrete, 51, a financial manager who lives a block from the coffee shop, said he was in a nearby AM/PM minimart Sunday morning when two baristas from the coffee shop ran into the store.
The two young women, who were crying and upset, said a gunman had come into the coffee shop and stood silently at the counter, Navarrete said.
One of the women said she asked the man if she could help him, but he remained silent before opening his coat, grabbing a gun and turning and firing at the officers, Navarrete said.
Both baristas said they ran out through the back door.
They said they heard more shots as they ran to one of their cars and drove to the minimart, Navarrete said. As they left, they saw one of the officers wrestling with the gunman, Navarrete said.
One of the baristas phoned 911 and the other called her husband using Navarrete’s cellphone, Navarrete said.
The gunman was described as a black man in his 20s or 30s, between 5-feet-7 inches and 5-feet-10-inches, and ran north on Steele Street South after the shooting. He was wearing a black coat over a gray hooded sweat shirt and bluejeans, Troyer said.
Police took a man into custody at a Parkland house nearby after he apparently called 911, claiming to be the shooter. But the man was not linked to the crime, Troyer said.
Dozens of officers were searching the area near the coffee shop, including the parking lot of Evergreen Self Storage. Troyer, carrying an assault rifle, told members of the media, “this is kind of a hot area, so you’re kind of on your own.”
He urged the reporters not to roam off and assigned three officers to stand near the media.
Troyer later said that the interest in the storage facility came because of a hoax in which a man in Tacoma had called his girlfriend and other people and falsely claimed responsibility for the shooting. The man was later arrested on suspicion of obstructing a police investigation.
At least a dozen officers also surrounded a nearby house and remained there throughout the day. Three cars were parked in the driveway but there was no indication whether anyone was inside the property.
Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna said he had directed his office to help in the investigation, including the Homicide Investigation Tracking System and the unit’s criminal investigators. That system includes a central repository for detailed information on violent crimes occurring in Washington and Oregon.
Brad Carpenter, CEO of Forza Coffee, met with the two young baristas after they were interviewed by police and said they were “shaken up.” The slain officers were “well-known to our staff,” Carpenter, a retired police officer from Oakland and Gig Harbor.
“It’s supposed to be a safe haven for everybody,” Carpenter said about the coffee shop.
Police seized a white pickup parked in a nearby parking lot and took it away on a flatbed truck.
The shootings come about a month after the killing of Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton, who was targeted for being a police officer when he was gunned down while sitting in his patrol car the night of Oct. 31.
A $100,000 reward has been offered for information leading to an arrest in the Lakewood officer’s deaths.
Forza Coffee is in a strip mall across the street from McChord Air Force Base and at a crossroads between Parkland and Lakewood, with a mix of residences and industrial businesses.
Immediately after the 911 call came in, police from Lakewood, Tacoma, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and other jurisdictions raced to the area.
“I have never seen this many scramble to a particular spot, ever,” said David Gabrielson, 27, who works as clerk at a gas station near the coffee shop.
Troyer said officers “were self-dispatching from multiple agencies” to help. He also said law enforcement had not received any threats or warnings.
“We don’t know if this is related to other shootings around the country or the one in Seattle,” Troyer said. “It could be because someone saw this happening around the country and got himself ramped up.”
Earlier in the day, Troyer said a KING-5 TV helicopter was interfering with “tactical operations” of police investigating the shootings, slowing down the search for suspects. The pilot had been asked to leave and refused, but KING apparently called off the helicopter.
Monty Norman, 44, of Lakewood works at a carwash and detailing shop three blocks from the Lakewood Police Department headquarters. Officers come in the shop every day to have their cars cleaned.
“It’s just crazy. Just insane. Words can’t explain. It’s just a bad feeling, We see them [officers] every day. They’re really good people,” Norman said.
According to the department’s Web site, the Lakewood Police Department has 123 staff members including 120 commissioned officers.
In a statement, Gov. Chris Gregoire expressed condolences for the family and co-workers of the slain officers. “I am shocked and horrified at the murder of four police officers this morning in Pierce County. 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.
“I offer whatever support is needed to the Pierce County Sheriff in their search for the perpetrator of this terrible crime.”
Initial research suggests the shooting of four police officers in Lakewood ranks as the worst attack on law enforcement in state history.
Nationally, the worst incident involving law-enforcement casualties is the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Reports from that incident say 60 police officers were killed, though the circumstances differ. Officers and other emergency workers responding to the attacks died in the course of rescue attempts as opposed to direct confrontations with assailants.
In March of this year, four Oakland, Calif., police officers were fatally shot — the worst casualty count in that state since 1970, when four highway patrolmen were killed.
Seattle Times staff reporters Sara Jean Green, Mike Carter, Steve Miletich, Bob Young, Jack Broom, Jennifer Sullivan and Jonathan Martin contributed to this report. Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Information from the News Tribune of Tacoma is included in this report.