State law allows officers to use deadly force against violent fugitives
The Seattle police officer who fatally shot murder suspect Maurice Clemmons was justified in using deadly force during the confrontation, according to Washington state law.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Coverage from the days following the Lakewood shootings
The Seattle police officer who fatally shot murder suspect Maurice Clemmons was justified in using deadly force during the confrontation, according to state law.
State law authorizes police to use deadly force against a suspected felon who has caused or is likely to cause "serious physical harm" to the officer or other people.
Clemmons is suspected of killing four Lakewood police officers at a coffee shop Sunday morning. Seattle police say one of the slain officers' guns was found on Clemmons.
"In a generic sense, if a police officer confronts a murder suspect and doesn't know definitively whether the suspect is armed, if the officer orders the suspect to stop and the suspect does not, the officer is justified in using deadly force to prevent the escape of the suspect, and prevent continuing risk to the community," said attorney Ted Buck, who represents Seattle police officers on use-of-force issues. He is also the lawyer for Officer Benjamin L. Kelly, who shot Clemmons.
For most of the 20th century, police officers in several states were allowed to shoot any fleeing felony suspect to prevent escape. That changed after a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court case, Tennessee v. Garner, in which the court ruled that police violated constitutional rights when they killed an unarmed burglary suspect as he fled by climbing a fence.
Deadly force is permitted only when a fleeing suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others, the justices said.
That standard has been written into Washington state law, RCW 9A.16.040.
Clemmons' violent background was well publicized during the two-day manhunt.