November 30, 2009
Four Police Officers Killed in Ambush Near Tacoma
By WILLIAM YARDLEY
LAKEWOOD, Wash. — Four uniformed police officers were shot to death Sunday morning as they sat in a coffee shop preparing to begin patrol, prompting a widespread search for the gunman, who remained at large.
“Two of them were just flat executed, sitting writing reports,” Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, said of the officers, who worked for the Police Department in Lakewood, just south of Tacoma. “One of them stood up and tried to go for the suspect and got shot. Then the fourth one fought his way out to the parking lot and fired off some rounds.”
The suspect fled on foot, but Mr. Troyer said investigators had evidence that he might have been injured by the fourth officer.
“We hope that he hit him,” Mr. Troyer said of the officer, who fired at the suspect before dying from gunshot wounds. “If he’s hit, that means he’s injured somewhere with a gunshot wound. He’s going to have to get that taken care of sometime, someplace,” he said.
Late Sunday, the authorities said they were seeking a “person of interest” in the shootings whom they identified as Maurice Clemmons, 37. They described him as having an “extensive violent criminal history” in Arkansas and said he had recently been arrested in Pierce County and charged with assaulting a police officer and raping a child.
Nine years ago in Arkansas, The Seattle Times reported, Mr. Clemmons was released from prison after Gov. Mike Huckabee commuted his lengthy prison sentence, over the protests of prosecutors.
After the coffee shop shootings, the gunman apparently fled into the strip-mall sprawl here, officials said. During the day, National Guard sharpshooters positioned themselves outside a nearby storage facility, helicopters hovered overhead and groups of bystanders were warned that they could be in the line of fire. Mr. Troyer said later that some of the search had been in response to what he called a hoax — a man called the police and falsely said he was the gunman.
The shooting took place near two major military bases, McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis, prompting initial concerns of terrorism, but officials later said they believed that the police officers were the intended targets.
Mr. Troyer said a caller reported the shooting at 8:15 a.m. Witnesses told the police that the gunman had approached the counter and was asked for an order, the authorities said. The man then opened his jacket to reveal a weapon. The employee at the counter fled and heard gunshots soon after.
The officers who were killed were identified as Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39; Ronald Owens, 37; Tina Griswold, 40; and Greg Richards, 42. They worked on a patrol team for the Police Department of Lakewood, a suburb of 58,000 people. The force was formed in 2004 after the city took over law enforcement from the Sheriff’s Office. It has about 100 officers.
Mr. Troyer said the shooting did not appear to be connected to the killing of a Seattle police officer, Timothy Brenton, who was shot while sitting in a patrol car on Halloween night. Several days later, the police arrested a suspect in that shooting, Christopher Monfort. The Seattle police have said Mr. Monfort, of suburban Tukwila, also played a role in the firebombing of four Seattle police vehicles in October.
The Lakewood officers were shot at a Forza Coffee Company cafe, part of a chain of two dozen shops in Washington. The attack took place in unincorporated Pierce County, just a few hundred yards from the Lakewood city limits, in a small shopping center with a nail salon, a teriyaki restaurant and a cigar shop.
Mr. Troyer said he did not think robbery was a motive. Employees and customers were left unharmed, and no money was taken.
The coffee shop and other nearby places are popular among law enforcement officers because the area is at the intersection of the cities of Tacoma and Lakewood.
“It’s a safe spot, it’s in a strip mall,” Mr. Troyer said. “It’s a place where they can plug in their computers, do reports, work and share intelligence with other police officers and agencies.”
Several residents of the nearby Willows apartment complex said the area had been hit recently by apartment and car burglaries, and at least two people said they had seen more unfamiliar faces of late.
“You hear shots from time to time,” said Lilah Casteel, who said she had lived in the complex for three years.
After the shootings, law enforcement officers from at least four departments set up roadblocks and searched streets, buildings and parking lots in a hunt for the gunman. There were initial conflicting reports about whether one or two men were involved.
Brad Carpenter of Forza Coffee told The Associated Press that his staff members were answering questions from investigators. “I’m a retired police officer, so this really hits close to home for me,” he said. The employees, Mr. Troyer said, “were stunned and shocked, traumatized.”
A vigil for the officers was scheduled to be held Sunday evening at a nondenominational church in Tacoma.
Joseph Berger contributed reporting from New York and Duff Wilson from Lakewood.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
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The Lakewood Police Independent Guild is setting up a benevolent fund for the families of the four officers killed Sunday morning.
Guild president Brian Wurts said in a statement on the guild's web page that the account has been established through the union.
If you would like to contribute, here is the address:
LPIG Benevolent Fund, PO Box 99579, Lakewood, WA 98499
Make out the checks to the "LPIG Benevolent Fund".