4 police officers killed at coffee shop near Tacoma

By Gene Johnson
Monday, November 30, 2009

PARKLAND, WASH. -- A man with an extensive criminal past -- whose 95-year prison sentence was commuted in Arkansas nearly a decade ago -- was being sought Sunday as a "person of interest" after four police officers were fatally shot at a coffee shop near Tacoma.

Pierce County Sheriff's Department spokesman Ed Troyer told reporters that Maurice Clemmons, 37, is one of several people investigators want to talk to but that he cannot be called a suspect at this point.

In a news release, the sheriff's office said Clemmons had an extensive violent criminal history in Arkansas, including aggravated robbery and theft. Clemmons was recently charged in Washington's Pierce County with a third-degree assault on a police officer, and second-degree rape of a child.

In 1989, Clemmons, then 17, was convicted in Little Rock of aggravated robbery. He was paroled in 2000 after then-Gov. Mike Huckabee commuted his 95-year prison sentence. Huckabee, who was criticized during his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 for the number of clemencies and commutations he granted, cited Clemmons's age at the time of the sentence.

After his release from prison, Clemmons violated his parole and was returned to prison in July 2001. He was released March 18, 2004, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper.

The four officers were with the 100-member police department of Lakewood, which adjoins the unincorporated area of Parkland, where the shootings took place. The city identified the victims as Mark Renninger, 39, Ronald Owens, 37, Tina Griswold, 40, and Greg Richards 42.

Troyer said one of the officers may have wounded the gunman. He told reporters that investigators were asking medical providers in the area to report any people wounded by gunshots.

Troyer said investigators think two officers were gunned down while sitting in the shop and a third was killed after standing up. The fourth apparently struggled with the gunman out the doorway and "gave up a good fight," firing a few shots before being shot or succumbing to earlier wounds.

"We believe there was a struggle, a commotion, a fight . . . that he fought the guy all the way out the door," Troyer said.

He added: "We hope that he hit him." Troyer said the gunman entered the coffeehouse and walked up to the counter as if to place an order. A barista saw a gun when the man opened his jacket and fled out the back door. The man then turned and shot the officers as they sat working on their laptop computers, killing the three men and one woman in what Troyer described as a targeted attack. "This was more of an execution -- walk in with the specific mind-set to shoot police officers," he said.

Troyer said the officers were catching up on paperwork at the beginning of their shifts when they were attacked at 8:15 a.m. at the Forza Coffee Co. outlet.

"There were marked patrol cars outside, and they were all in uniform," he said.

There was no indication of any connection with the Halloween-night shooting of a Seattle police officer. The suspect in that shooting remains hospitalized.

"We won't know if it's a copycat effect or what it was until we get the case solved," Troyer said.

Brad Carpenter, founder and owner of Forza Coffee, said his staff said his main concern was for the victims' families.

"I'm a retired police officer, so this really hits close to home for me," he said.

-- Associated Press

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