As I write I am looking at photos of four dead police officers, all from the Lakewood (Wash.) Police Department (LPD). By the time this issue of Law Enforcement Technology hits the streets, the way these four officers were gunned down and the ensuing manhunt and killing of their murderer will be yesterday's news. That doesn't change how the members of the Lakewood PD will be feeling — they'll still be hurting from their loss. To process the deaths of four good officers in such a senseless manner is a nearly impossible task. My heart goes out to the LPD, the families of the slain officers and the citizens in their community.
Although the facts are still coming in as I write, one incontrovertible truth has already been established: That this killer, Maurice Clemmons, was on the street when he should not have been. Twice the government had a chance to keep this man from becoming the mass killer he did; twice it failed to do its job.
Clemmons, who was serving 108 years in an Arkansas state prison, was granted clemency by then-governor Mike Huckabee, who reportedly commuted Clemmons' sentence because of the man's young age at the time. Huckabee says he based his decision on the recommendation of a judge, but in truth, the former Arkansas governor turned loose more prisoners during his time in office than the previous three governors combined.
The Washington State (Pierce County) Prosecutor took Huckbee to task by observing (quite rightly in my opinion) that if Clemmons had stayed in jail, none of the four officers would have been gunned down. It's hard to deny his logic — but it is equally difficult to understand a criminal justice system that often loses its way when it comes to standing firm on punishment that's richly deserved. It's disturbing, but certainly nothing new.
Years ago I was involved in a case where a 2-year-old child died in a situation that should never have happened: His father had court-ordered custody of him and his baby sister. Being former Army, the dad had met the mother in Korea and brought her to this country. When they divorced, she took the children in violation of the court order and ran.
She was living with the kids in a sleazy hotel. It was dirty, filled with vermin and frequented mostly by prostitutes and drug dealers. The mother worked in the bars, leaving the two small children alone at night. They were dirty, malnourished and neglected. When the boy was found dead, the medical examiner and experts determined the mother's claims that the child pulled a dresser over on himself inconsistent with the physical evidence and the death a homicide. The fact that the child had been dead several hours before she bothered to seek medical care, that he exhibited other signs of physical abuse and extreme neglect and that the mother was unmoved by her child's death helped ensure a murder conviction. But when she went to prison, local church groups completely unfamiliar with the evidence lobbied the governor and he pardoned her.
She killed a child and walked.
I understand why state chief executives have the power to commute sentences, but it's not always wielded wisely. In fact, many times it's corrupt or results in thwarting the efforts of good cops to put bad people where they belong — behind bars, where they can't add to their list of victims.
In Clemmons' case, clearly he was both vicious and disturbed — qualities that criminals of all ages can share. Clemency granted only because he was young is about as intelligent as clemency because a church supports it. It is different to grant clemency to someone who was falsely convicted. It is another thing entirely for a governor to assume the role of judge and jury — and set free on society monsters like Clemmons.
A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in patrol, forensics, crime prevention and criminal investigations, and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.