MONUMENT, Colo. (AP) — In the weeks before Colorado's top prisons official was fatally shot after answering his front door, he carried out a variety of functions including requesting execution chemicals and speaking to legislators about security issues.
It's unknown what role Tom Clements' position as executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections might have played in the shooting Tuesday, but investigators said they aren't ruling out any possible motives, including whether it was random or a work-related attack.
Colorado corrections spokeswoman Adrienne Jacobson would not comment on whether Clements had security at his home. Security was stepped up for other state officials, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was ashen-faced as he addressed reporters at the Capitol before signing bills placing new restrictions on firearms.
"Tom Clements dedicated his life to being a public servant, to making our state a better place and he is going to be deeply, deeply missed," Hickenlooper said Wednesday.
Authorities are looking for a late-model car, possibly a Lincoln or a Cadillac, that a neighbor spotted outside Clements' home around the time of the shooting Tuesday, El Paso County Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Jeff Kramer said in a report carried by the Denver Post.
Kramer also said investigators want to speak with a woman seen speed-walking near Clements' home not long before the shooting because she may have seen the suspect. The woman was wearing light pants, a dark windbreaker and possibly a hat.
While small in numbers, similar attacks on officials have been increasing in the U.S. in recent years, said Glenn McGovern, an investigator with the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office in California who tracks such incidents worldwide. He said there have been roughly as many in the past three years — at least 35 — as the entire prior decade. Revenge is usually the motive, he added.
"It's often taking place away from the office, which makes sense, because everyone's hardening up their facilities," he said, adding that he advises prosecutors to constantly assess the safety of their residences.
On Jan. 31, Texas prosecutor Mark Hasse was gunned down as he left his car in the parking lot to the county courthouse. McGovern also counts the rampage by an ex-Los Angeles police officer who killed the daughter of a retired city police officer as part of a plot to avenge his firing.
In Colorado, a prosecutor was fatally shot in 2008 as he returned to his Denver home. In 2001, federal prosecutor Thomas Wales was fatally shot by a rifleman while he worked on a computer at night in his Seattle home. Both cases remain unsolved.
Attacks on legal officials are still extremely rare, said Scott Burns of the National District Attorneys Association, which counts 11 prosecutors as having been slain in the last 50 years. But he acknowledged that legal officials are vulnerable outside of protected offices and courthouses.
"If someone wants to truly harm or kill them, it's very difficult, frankly. There's not a lot we can do," he said.
Mike McLelland, the district attorney in rural Kaufman county east of Dallas, is a 23-year military veteran. Since his prosecutor, Hasse, was killed on his way into the office, McLelland has warned his staff to be vigilant about their surroundings and possible danger.
"The people in my line of work are going to have to get a lot better at it, because they're going to need it more in the future," McLelland said, adding that he carries a gun everywhere he goes.
Clements came to Colorado in 2011 after working three decades in the Missouri prison system. He began a review of Colorado's solitary confinement system and closed a new prison built specifically to hold prisoners being held in solitary — Colorado State Penitentiary II.
He lived in a wooded neighborhood of large, two-story houses on 2-acre lots dotted with evergreen trees in an area known as the Black Forest. Long driveways connect the homes to narrow, winding roads that thread the hills. After word of the shooting spread Tuesday night, some residents slept with shotguns at the ready, fearful the shooter would return.