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Criminal history of Maurice Clemmons disturbs Washingtonians

The long criminal history of Maurice Clemmons, accused of killing four police officers near Seattle, has officials examining how the state handles repeat offenders.

By Michael B. FarrellStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 5, 2009



Since four police officers were gunned down Sunday in a suburban Seattle coffee shop, a disturbing narrative has emerged about the alleged shooter and his long, troubled history with the law – raising new questions in Washington about how the state treats repeat offenders.

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Maurice Clemmons, who was fatally shot Tuesday after becoming the focus of a massive manhunt following the tragic shootings, had a lengthy rap sheet even before he moved to the Seattle area in 2004. In Arkansas he had been convicted of aggravated robbery, theft, burglary, and firearms possession. His 108-year prison sentence was commuted by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2000.

According to the Arkansas Times, Clemmons returned to a life of crime after being released by Mr. Huckabee. "Clemmons then returned to prison for a July 13, 2001, conviction for robbery in Ouachita County, for which he received a 10-year sentence. He was paroled March 18, 2004," the newspaper reported.

That parole was transferred to Washington, where Clemmons grew up. Once there, according to King 5 News, he "worked all sorts of jobs: Landscaping. Removing seats from buses. Recycling metals. Real estate."

He also was suspected of involvement in more armed robberies and even drug smuggling. In the past year, he was jailed at least three times and made bail after each incarceration. Most recently he posted bail while awaiting trial on child rape charges. He walked out of the Pierce County, Wash., facility six days before allegedly gunning down four unsuspecting police officers.

"This is a guy who slipped through the cracks way too many times and there were more than enough red flags along the way that somebody should have seen," Washington state Rep. Christopher Hurst told The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash.. "I'm looking at policy issues. What are the policies and state laws that were not working properly? This simply should not have happened with a person of this history."

Another state lawmaker is proposing a law that would eliminate the possibility of bail for repeat offenders. "Letting him out on bail was a huge mistake, and something that we can't afford to let happen again," Rep. Mike Hope told the Seattle Times.

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) said Wednesday that her state would stop accepting parolees from Arkansas "until we can have a further review of not only the interstate compact system and whether it's really living up to its responsibilities, but the question of whether Arkansas is living up to its responsibilities and I have a major questions in my head about that."

The dispute between Washington and Arkansas is whether a "no bail" warrant for Clemmons, which was issued by Arkansas authorities after he was arrested in Washington on a series of allegations, was handled properly. That warrant was later rescinded, and Clemmons posted bond.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) said his state handled the warrant issue correctly. While Clemmons's life had been punctuated by trauma, a relative told the Seattle Times that Clemmons "had been in a mental tailspin since spring and was withdrawn and 'talking crazy about God' " and even apparently thought that "he'd been cursed by a 'devil worshipper.' "

So far, Washington authorities have charged four people with aiding Clemmons in the aftermath of Sunday's shootings. They expect to make more arrests as the investigation proceeds.

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