Before Maurice Clemmons gunned down four Lakewood police officers in a coffee shop, he had planned to go to a Tacoma police station and open fire, a friend told authorities.
Finished with the turkey and stuffing, the family had moved on to dessert. The first pieces of pie were gone, but Greg Richards kept disappearing into the kitchen — once, twice, three times.
Whoosh, went the whipped cream. “Whoo, whoo,” came the cheer.
It was Richards’ I’m-eating-pie cheer, a salute his family knew well. Richards’ 15-year-old daughter, Jami-Mae, cracked up in the kitchen. Other family members chuckled in the dining room.
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Nov. 26, 2009, was Thanksgiving, and for Richards, it was a rare holiday off.
Richards worked as a police officer in Lakewood, just outside Tacoma. He was 42 but goofy as ever. He danced in front of the TV, played drums in a rock band and got sick at the sight of mayonnaise. He’d get lost driving but never admit it. With the kids, he was the soft touch, the parent who’d eventually say yes, so long as you kept asking.
He had served in the Army, worked as a timber grader and landed a job with the Kent Police Department before moving over to Lakewood. He’d been married to Kelly for 18 years. Jami-Mae was their middle child.
Each day, when Greg left for work, Kelly told him: “You come home to us.”
The family lived in Graham, in the Cascade foothills. They spent this Thanksgiving at the home of Kelly’s sister, a few blocks away. When it came time for the Thanksgiving ritual — what are you thankful for? — Greg burst in.
“I’m going first! I’m going first!” He paused. Everyone knew what would come next. “My family.”
“Oh, he took mine,” Kelly said.
After dinner, Greg pulled out the movie “Up” and insisted everyone gather around to watch.
A four-minute montage, early in the movie, is a wordless homage to love: a couple’s courtship, the heartbreak of infertility, the intimate arc of their decades-long marriage, and finally, their golden years, still in love. Then the wife dies, and the grieving husband prepares for his final chapter — a long-delayed exotic trip, held aloft by balloons.
He moves on while cherishing his wife’s memory.
Two nights later, Maurice Clemmons danced around a studio apartment south of Tacoma, a 9-mm pistol in one hand, a .38-caliber revolver in the other.
He’d been out of jail for five days now. With the help of Jail Sucks Bail Bonds, he’d managed to post $190,000 bail, even though he couldn’t afford the 10 percent down.
To minimize its risk, Jail Sucks had attached a GPS bracelet to Clemmons’ ankle. But he’d cut it off — on Thanksgiving Day, police later determined — with no one seeming to notice, with no one calling or knocking at his door.
He’d also blown off a requirement to check in with his community corrections officer within 24 hours of his release. Again, no one seemed to notice.
He was in this studio apartment, adjacent to one of his three homes, because his wife, Nicole, had kicked him out. He was with Eddie Davis, a cousin, and Douglas Davis, a friend Clemmons was quick to insult, calling him a “space monkey.”
Starting in the spring, continuing into summer, Clemmons had come to believe he was Jesus Christ. But dancing around this night, acting crazy, he now said he was Lucifer.
He’d told Doug that since getting out of jail, he’d been trying to go to a police station in Tacoma. He intended to walk in and start shooting. But the first time he tried, the police station was closed. Another time, he’d gotten a flat tire.
But he wasn’t giving up. On this Saturday night, holding the two guns, he said he still planned to go to a police station and open fire. He also talked of stopping at an intersection and opening fire. And of going into a school and opening fire.
When he talked of shooting police officers, he called them “bitches.”
The next morning — a Sunday, early — Clemmons armed himself with the two handguns and settled into the passenger seat of his white pickup truck, registered to his landscaping and power-washing business.
Darcus Allen took the wheel. Allen, a fugitive wanted in connection with a Little Rock bank robbery, had befriended Clemmons when the two served time together in Arkansas.
Allen drove south on Steele Street. A chain-link fence ran along their right, the eastern boundary of McChord Air Force Base. To their left was a strip mall, home to a teriyaki joint, coffee shop, nail salon, cigar store. As they passed by, Clemmons spotted several police cars outside the coffee shop, part of the Forza chain.
As the truck continued through Parkland, nearing Clemmons’ home, Clemmons told Allen to turn around. They headed back, and as the truck approached the strip mall, Clemmons got out and walked toward the coffee shop.
Inside Forza, the chime for the front door rang. Clemmons poked his head in and looked around.
Sara Kispert, a barista, asked Clemmons how he was doing. Clemmons didn’t answer.
Besides Sara, there was another barista, Michelle Chaboya, and six customers. A middle-aged couple, Daniel and Lola Jordan, relaxed on black leather armchairs by the front. Daniel checked e-mail on his phone. Lola scanned the newspaper for Christmas sale ads.
The four other customers were Lakewood police officers. Three sat together at a table.
Tina Griswold, eating a cinnamon roll, hadn’t been scheduled to work but had volunteered to pick up another officer’s shift, to make extra money for Christmas. Mark Renninger, a former Army Ranger and one of the state’s top SWAT team instructors, worked on a laptop. So did Ronald Owens, a former state trooper who doted on his 7-year-old daughter.
The fourth officer, standing by the counter, mulling his order, was Greg Richards.
Clemmons was carrying a newspaper. He walked into the middle of the shop — with Daniel and Lola behind him, three police officers to his side, and Richards and two baristas in front of him — and reached for one of his guns.
Sara Kispert saw Clemmons pull out the 9-mm. Without a word he started firing, a shocking roar.
The baristas bolted through a door at the back of the shop. Richards spun around, dropping his wallet on the floor.
As best police can tell, Clemmons’ first shot hit Griswold from maybe a couple of feet away, a bullet to the back of the head that killed her instantly. His second shot hit Renninger in the temple, a fatal wound.
Daniel Jordan jumped at the explosion and looked up as Renninger was gunned down. Believing they were next, the couple made for the front door, but it wasn’t easy — Lola had scoliosis, a spinal deformity that can limit movement. Daniel grabbed her and pulled. Together, they stumbled through the door and fled for their car.
With two officers down, Clemmons turned to shoot Owens. But the 9-mm jammed. Clemmons tossed it aside and pulled out another gun, a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver.
Owens, tall and lanky, sprang from the table and grappled with Clemmons, 240 pounds of muscle. Richards, at the counter, started running toward the two as they knocked over tables and chairs, with Clemmons continuing to fire, spraying bullets through the cafe.
One of the rounds hit Owens in the head. He collapsed in the middle of the coffee shop.
The battle came down to Richards and Clemmons, and it was fierce, with Richards disarming Clemmons, knocking the .38 away, and drawing his own weapon, a .40-caliber Glock. Together, the two pitched toward the entrance, slamming into the front door’s frame.
Clemmons grabbed for Richards, ripping off his holster belt. The two wrestled over the Glock, fighting for control, and during the struggle the gun fired twice.
One bullet hit Clemmons in the back, near his right armpit. The other bullet hit Richards in the head.
Richards, the fourth and final officer, hit the floor and died on the sidewalk, his head just inside the door.
The Jordans drove a short way up the street and stopped to call police. As they sat there, in shock, Clemmons staggered past, bleeding, holding Richards’ Glock.
The baristas, Sara and Michelle, had hopped into a car and sped around to the front. Passing the coffee shop, Sara had seen Clemmons and Richards struggling on the sidewalk.
The two women stopped at an AM/PM minimart, a quarter mile north. Sara borrowed a man’s cellphone and tried calling 911, but was so rattled she couldn’t punch the numbers.
Michelle looked up and saw a man walking toward them — it was the shooter, she was sure of it. Clemmons came up the sidewalk, a 100 yards away, then 80, then 60. He glanced over his shoulder. As wails of sirens began to fill the air, he quickened his step.
He was 50 yards away, still coming straight at them.
“Sara, we need to go inside,” Michelle said.
Just when it seemed inevitable that Clemmons would see them, he stopped short, veered off the sidewalk, and headed into a carwash where his pickup truck and Darcus Allen were waiting.
Clemmons climbed into the passenger side, and the truck peeled away.
The first 911 call came in at 8:14 a.m. Within minutes, police arrived at the coffee shop. By 8:32 a.m., it was confirmed: All four officers were dead.
To confirm the victims’ identities, dispatch began the grimmest of roll calls, dialing the cellphone for each Lakewood police officer on duty that morning. At 8:42 a.m., a call to Mark Renninger’s phone elicited only a ring, one that sounded inside the coffee shop. Tina Griswold didn’t answer her phone. Nor did Ronald Owens, nor Greg Richards.
Word of the massacre spread. While dispatch called officers, officers’ spouses called dispatch, desperate for reassurance. At 9:11 a.m., Kelly Richards called and said she’d been unable to reach her husband. She rounded up her family and headed for the police station, fearing the worst. On the way there, she received a call from police, telling her to return home. Officers were on the way to meet her.
Rick Adamson, chief of operations for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, pulled into the Forza parking lot at 9:17 a.m. Patrol cars were parked every which way. Officers with assault rifles ran about, with no discernible pattern to their comings and goings.
Adamson knew firsthand the dangers of law enforcement. Ten years earlier, a bullet fired by a fleeing suspect had pierced Adamson’s windshield and hit a radio microphone Adamson was holding to his face.
At the scene, Adamson assumed control as incident commander. Suspecting an act of terrorism, he called the FBI’s regional Joint Terrorism Task Force. The task force placed its resources — criminal intelligence, electronic surveillance — at Adamson’s disposal.
Other agencies — federal, state, local — stepped forward. At least 600 people and 16 law-enforcement agencies joined in the manhunt, the largest fugitive search in state history.
About a thousand tips poured in, but having found the shooter’s vehicle — the white pickup registered to Clemmons’ business — police focused on Clemmons within the first hour. “We knew he was not going to just drop his gun and give up,” Adamson says. “It was going to be a gunbattle.”
A few hours after the shooting, police took Clemmons’ wife, Nicole, in for questioning. She proved exceptionally cooperative, investigators say, providing cellphone numbers for Clemmons and his spider web of contacts.
With the help of federal agencies, police used cellphones linked to Clemmons to track his movements. Whether in use or not, cellphones send out “pings” to check for nearby cell towers; these pings result in the phone’s location being registered by the cellular network every seven seconds or so.
Still, Clemmons remained elusive. At just before 8 p.m. Sunday, nearly 12 hours into the manhunt, members of the Washington State Department of Corrections’ fugitive task force pulled into Renton, believing Clemmons was somewhere near. Some officers stopped drivers coming and going. Some sat in their cars, on edge.
“It was freaky sitting in the pitch black, wondering if he was going to sneak up behind you,” says Evan Brady, one of the members. “You always felt a step behind.”
Maurice Clemmons spent Sunday on the move.
After the shootings he showed up at his home in Parkland. He was shot, yes, but it wasn’t bad; the bullet had entered his chest cavity but missed his vital organs.
A cousin drove Clemmons to his Aunt Letrecia’s house in Pacific. On the way there, Clemmons related what he’d done.
I took care of my business, he said.
At the aunt’s house, Clemmons was bandaged up. Afterward, Clemmons’ cousin drove him to a discount tire store in Auburn, where Clemmons had arranged to meet his girlfriend Quiana Williams. Clemmons got into Williams’ car, and she drove him to her place in South Seattle.
Clemmons tried covering his tracks. He warned family members to keep off their cellphones. Instead of leaving bloody bandages behind, he bundled them up and tossed them from a moving car. But police were picking up Clemmons’ friends and relatives. His options narrowed, reducing the places he could turn.
On Sunday evening he reached out to his Aunt Chrisceda, who lived in Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood. Chrisceda told Clemmons not to come to her home, but he insisted on coming anyway, so Chrisceda went to police, saying her nephew was on his way.
This was the tip police were waiting for. At 8:15 p.m., detectives parked near Chrisceda’s home. They watched as Williams drove up and a man jumped out. The man climbed the stairs to the front porch.
Word went out. Three minutes later, SWAT team members arrived and surrounded the house. In a drama that played out on television and radio, police began an all-night barrage of flash-bang grenades and lights. They launched more than 70 pounds of tear gas into the house, breaking windows and saturating the walls with fumes.
On Monday, as dawn broke, SWAT team members entered and swept the house. They recovered bloodied gauze — but Clemmons was nowhere to be found.
Only later would police discover what had happened.
Entering the house Sunday evening, Clemmons had apparently seen something that spooked him. He bolted, most likely scrambling through the wooded greenbelt behind his aunt’s home.
Around midnight, Richard Frederick, a crack addict with a history of drug-related crimes, spotted Clemmons about a half mile from Chrisceda’s house. Clemmons introduced himself as “Mo.” He asked for a cigarette. He offered $50 for a ride to Tacoma.
Frederick took Clemmons to his home — a well-known crack house, hidden from the street by a thick hedge. Then Frederick left to hunt up a car. When he returned, unable to find one, he found Clemmons in an alcove, asleep as police lay siege to Chrisceda’s house just blocks away.
Clemmons was still asleep when Frederick left the house Monday morning. On Monday night, when Frederick checked back in, Clemmons was gone.
That night, Mike Huckabee went on “The O’Reilly Factor,” on Fox.
The former Arkansas governor had emerged as the early Republican front-runner for the 2012 presidential election. But the deaths of these four officers threatened his political future. After all, he had once shown mercy to the man who killed them.
Huckabee’s press team had released a statement the day of the shootings, setting the tone that would define Huckabee’s handling of this crisis: Honor the officers, deflect the blame.
Huckabee’s statement blamed the criminal-justice systems in both Arkansas and Washington, singling out Arkansas prosecutors in particular. Huckabee said Clemmons had “received a commutation” without noting who had granted it, a passive construction reminiscent of “mistakes were made.”
O’Reilly thanked Huckabee — who had his own show on Fox — for coming on the air, calling Huckabee “a stand-up guy.”
“This is a bad hombre, and you let him out,” O’Reilly said. “Why?”
Huckabee started by saying he held police officers in the highest regard. Then he rewrote the history of the Clemmons’ case, understating Clemmons’ criminal record and suggesting prosecutors failed to weigh in. (The prosecutors say they never received notice of Clemmons’ appeal for mercy — a common failure of Huckabee’s early handling of clemency matters.)
“Well, it’s not your fault, governor,” O’Reilly said.
O’Reilly blamed the judges in Washington who had set Clemmons’ bail. Calling them “clowns,” he misstated the judges’ actions, adding there was “no excuse on earth” for what they did.
“Would you agree?” he asked Huckabee.
“I would totally agree, Bill.”
Benjamin Kelly, a 39-year-old patrol officer assigned to the Seattle Police Department’s South Precinct, preferred to work alone. Even on this shift — graveyard, Monday night to Tuesday morning, with a cop killer on the loose — Kelly turned down his sergeant’s suggestion that officers double up. Kelly believed isolation kept him sharp.
Just after midnight, Kelly heard a report of a stolen Acura Integra, silver, license plate 454 XMO. He steered down dark side streets, shiny with rain, looking for the Acura and two other cars stolen that night.
Around 2:30 a.m., with 90 minutes left in his shift, Kelly turned west onto South Kenyon, a quiet residential street. Kelly drove past a man — he was walking, alone, in a dark-blue sweatshirt with the hood pulled up — and headed toward Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
Near the street’s end, Kelly saw a car with its hood up and exhaust spewing. He stopped and checked the plate: 454 XMO.
While notifying dispatch that he had located the stolen car, Kelly checked his surroundings. In his rearview mirror, he saw the man in the hooded sweatshirt, about 50 feet behind his car. The man stepped off the sidewalk and began walking down the middle of the street.
“Copy,” the dispatcher said. “On view recovery at 44 and Kenyon of 454 X-ray Mary Ocean.”
Kelly checked his mirror again. The man was getting closer. This guy isn’t avoiding me, Kelly thought. He’s coming at me.
The man was at the car’s rear bumper when Kelly jumped out and turned to face him. The street was empty but for the two men, standing in the glow of a streetlight. The hooded man lifted his head. Recognition flooded Kelly with adrenaline — the face, the build, the telltale mole below his left eye.
Kelly screamed for Clemmons to show his hands. Clemmons tried to pull a gun from his pocket, then began running. Kelly fired three shots in a burst, then four more, tracking Clemmons as he sprinted through the fog of the Acura’s exhaust.
Clemmons disappeared through a hedge. Kelly called the shootings in. Within a minute, the sound of sirens filled the night.
The arriving officers found Clemmons, collapsed, on a concrete path leading to a house. Kelly had hit him four times, with two shots fatal, each hitting a lung. An officer patted Clemmons down and found Greg Richards’ Glock sticking out of a pocket. The trigger guard was caught on the zipper — a lucky turn that may have made all the difference.
Clemmons died on the way to the hospital.
A week later, about 20,000 police officers from around the United States and Canada came to the Tacoma Dome to pay their respects to the four officers killed by Clemmons.
Officers placed black strips across their badges. Flags flew at half-staff. A police horse walked the grounds, riderless, empty boots in the stirrups facing backward.
At the memorial service, the four officers were remembered as people in full, with lives that extended beyond their police work. Objects placed around the dome reflected their passions: Ronald Owens’ dirt bike, Greg Richards’ drum set, and Tina Griswold’s boxing gloves along with a favorite pair of high heels. Mark Renninger loved NASCAR, so organizers managed to bring in a car that Bobby Labonte drove at Daytona.
Each officer was a parent. Nine children were left without a mother or father.
Pictures from the officers’ lives flashed on a large screen — a family album of sorts, with childhood shots of a boy or girl holding a basketball or sitting on Santa’s lap; vacation shots at the Grand Canyon or Disneyland; graduation pictures, wedding pictures, a father holding a baby up to the top of the Christmas tree as though she’s an angel or star.
Certain pictures wouldn’t let you go. Mark Renninger with his son, holding hands, their backs to the camera, the boy’s head coming to Renninger’s waist, the two striking out on some trail. A picture of Ronald Owens — a photo every father knows well — showing him asleep, with his baby daughter nestled into his chest.
All three of Greg Richards’ children spoke at the service with a grace that amazed. Along with Jami-Mae there was Austin, 16, and Gavin, 10. They described their father as the happiest of men, quick to laugh, ever thankful, never hard and bitter.
“There weren’t many things he didn’t like,” Austin told the enormous gathering. “In fact, I can count them on one hand: disorganized drawers, mayonnaise and baggy pants.”
At this, all three of Richards’ kids looked at each other — and laughed.
With the shootout in the coffee shop so recent, organizers elected to avoid a 21-gun salute. The memorial for the Lakewood officers instead used a 21-bell salute, with 21 chimes of a brass bell ringing.
To close the service, a police-radio call played inside the dome, with the dispatcher calling out each of the officers’ service numbers — Renninger’s, then Griswold’s, Owens’ and Richards’ — and getting nothing in response. Each time, the dispatcher answered the silence with a final farewell.
“Out of service. Gone but not forgotten.”
Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605
Ken Armstrong: 206-464-3730