Seattle police Officer Benjamin L. Kelly said he feared for his life when Maurice Clemmons ignored his orders to "show me your hands" during a pre-dawn encounter two days after Clemmons fatally shot four Lakewood police officers.

Share story

Sitting in the dark in his patrol car, Seattle police Officer Benjamin L. Kelly glanced at his rearview mirror and saw a heavyset man in a hooded sweat shirt approaching on the sidewalk of a South Seattle neighborhood.

Kelly had just radioed in to dispatch about a stolen car he found running on the street. He glanced up at the mirror again, and the man in the sweat shirt was now 50 feet away and walking in the middle of the street. That’s odd, Kelly thought.

The man kept getting closer.

He was at the bumper of Kelly’s patrol-car bumper when the officer jumped out. The man looked up, and Kelly instantly recognized the face and the distinctive mole on his left cheek. Maurice Clemmons, the man who had shot four Lakewood police officers two days earlier, now was at the rear wheel of Kelly’s car — a few feet away.

In gripping testimony Monday, Kelly recounted his confrontation with Clemmons before a six-member jury in a shooting inquest presided over by King County District Court Judge Arthur Chapman. Police from Seattle and Lakewood, as well as relatives of the slain officers, filled the King County County courtroom for the first day of the two-day inquest.

Kelly, speaking publicly for the first time, testified that when he started his overnight patrol shift on the night of Nov. 30 the thought that he might encounter the region’s most-wanted felon flickered through his mind. But when the patrolman came face to face with Clemmons early the next morning, Kelly’s first thought was, “I’m in trouble here.”

Kelly, 39, testified that he ordered Clemmons to show his hands as the officer drew his gun. “I thought I could be dead in a matter of seconds,” Kelly said.

Instead, Clemmons moved his hands toward his sweat-shirt pocket and raced around the front of Kelly’s car, the officer testified. Kelly said he fired three shots, then four more as Clemmons ran away “in a dead sprint.”

“I believed he was going for a gun. I discharged my duty weapon,” Kelly said. “My intent was to stop him.”

A video shot from Kelly’s patrol car — shown to the inquest jurors — shows Clemmons racing around the front of the car, limping slightly. Clemmons, 37, made it to the sidewalk, out of Kelly’s view, before collapsing facedown on a walkway leading to a home.

Kelly said he tried to radio for help three times, but his radio “bonked” — police jargon for failing to connect. Kelly said he grabbed his patrol shotgun, and finally was able to contact dispatch. Patrol officers swarmed the 4400 block of South Kenyon Street within 30 seconds.

A team of officers hunched behind a bulletproof shield and marched up to the wounded man, handcuffed him and dragged him away from the home. One officer, Daina Boggs, testified that she found the duty weapon of slain Lakewood police Officer Greg Richards in Clemmons’ pocket.

She said she had trouble removing it because the gun was caught on the zipper.

The inquest is scheduled to continue Tuesday, with jurors hearing from Seattle police Detective Al Cruise as well as from Dr. Aldo Fusaro of the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, before deliberating.

A jury determination could be returned as early as Tuesday afternoon.

In King County, inquests are fact-finding hearings regularly held after a police officer uses lethal force while on duty, prosecutors said. Jurors are asked to submit answers of “yes,” “no,” or “unknown” to a set of questions drafted by lawyers and the judge. A key question typically asked during an inquest is whether the officer believed he was in imminent danger when lethal force was used, prosecutors said.

The King County Prosecutor’s Office reviews all inquest findings to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.

“It’s designed so there are no secrets about what happened in any situation when law enforcement is involved with a death,” said Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kristin Richardson, who is handling the Clemmons inquest. “It’s a public airing of the facts so everyone knows what the circumstances were [when lethal force was used].”

The family of the person slain can have an attorney question witnesses at inquest hearings; Clemmons’ family is not participating in the hearing.

Lakewood Assistant Police Chief Mike Zaro, who watched the inquest Monday, said he was relieved to have the details aired publicly. “Having all the facts help,” he said.

On Nov. 29, Clemmons walked into a Parkland, Pierce County, coffee shop and opened fire at Lakewood police officers. Killed were Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Richards.

Richards managed to wound Clemmons.

The shooting ignited an intense, two-day manhunt that ended when Kelly encountered Clemmons at 2:45 a.m. Kelly had stopped to investigate a parked silver 1990 Acura Integra with its hood raised. The engine was running, and nobody was inside.

Police believe Clemmons had stolen the car, which broke down about five blocks from where it had been taken.

Kelly was parked behind the stolen Acura when he saw Clemmons approaching, first on the sidewalk and then walking up the middle of the street.

“As soon as I recognized who he was, my order was ‘show me your hands,’ ” Kelly said in court. “He gave me the ‘oh crap’ look. Whatever he was thinking, it wasn’t working out the way he planned out.”

Kelly said he did not immediately know if he had wounded Clemmons during the shooting.

After Clemmons made it to the sidewalk, Kelly said he chose to not follow him. Instead, he pulled out his patrol shotgun and stayed behind the car, waiting for backup.

“I had several unknowns,” he said. “I didn’t know exactly where he was. No one knew where I was. He could be setting up around the corner with the gun in his hand and I wouldn’t have a chance.”

Information from Seattle Times staff reporter Steve Miletich and Times archives is included in this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com