Jury: Officer believed he was in imminent danger when he killed Clemmons
An inquest jury has ruled that Seattle police Officer Benjamin L. Kelly believed he was in imminent danger when he fatally shot Maurice Clemmons on Dec. 1, ending a two-day manhunt that started when Clemmons ambushed four Lakewood officers in Pierce County.
Seattle Times staff reporter
An inquest jury ruled Wednesday that a Seattle police officer believed he was in imminent danger when he fatally shot Maurice Clemmons on Dec. 1, ending a two-day manhunt that started when Clemmons ambushed four officers in Pierce County.
Answering a series of questions, the six-member jury was unanimous in its finding that Officer Benjamin L. Kelly believed Clemmons presented an imminent threat of "death or serious bodily injury" when the officer encountered him in a South Seattle neighborhood while investigating a stolen car.
The jury also unanimously determined that Kelly saw Clemmons move his hands toward his waist before the officer opened fire, hitting Clemmons with four of seven gunshots.
Clemmons, who was armed, died at the scene. Two days earlier he had walked into a Parkland coffee shop and fatally shot Lakewood police Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards.
The two questions on the threat and Clemmons' behavior moments before he was shot were considered key among the 19 that were weighed by the jury.
Jurors, however, could not determine whether Kelly repeatedly ordered Clemmons to show his hands before he fired. Jurors voted 6-0 that it was "unknown."
Kelly had testified he warned Clemmons several times to show his hands before he fired.
Jurors declined to talk to the media, but Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kristin Richardson said the jury appeared to have trouble discerning when Kelly got out of his patrol car and at what point he allegedly issued the commands.
"They think everything he did was appropriate," Richardson said of the jury. "They had an appreciation for the decisions he made."
The King County District Court inquest jury, which heard testimony Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, began weighing a series of questions Tuesday afternoon but did not conclude its deliberations until Wednesday morning.
Rather than reach a conclusion of guilty or not guilty, inquest juries consider evidence presented during fact-finding hearings after a police officer uses lethal force while on duty.
In the coming weeks, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg will review the findings to determine whether criminal charges should be filed, which would appear unlikely given the jury's answers.
"I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to present the facts in this matter," Kelly said afterward. "I hope this brings some closure to the families of the Lakewood officers."
Since the hearing began Monday, jurors heard Kelly testify on what happened when he encountered Clemmons while investigating a stolen car left running on a quiet residential street.
Kelly said Clemmons ignored several "very loud and very vocal" commands to remove his hands from his waistband area as he approached the officer in the dark.
"I thought I could be dead in a matter of seconds," Kelly testified.
Instead, Clemmons moved his hands toward his sweat shirt pocket and raced around the front of Kelly's car, the officer testified. Kelly said he fired three shots, then four more as Clemmons ran away "in a dead sprint."
"I believed he was going for a gun. I discharged my duty weapon," Kelly testified. "My intent was to stop him."
Two fatal wounds
Two of Kelly's bullets were later determined to be fatal wounds, Dr. Aldo Fusaro, of the King County Medical Examiner's Office, testified.
Clemmons had also suffered a fifth wound from a gunshot fired by Richards, one of the four officers killed Nov. 29.
A video shot from Kelly's patrol car — shown several times to the inquest jurors — shows Clemmons racing around the front of the car, limping slightly. Clemmons, 37, made it to the sidewalk, out of Kelly's view, before collapsing face down on a walkway leading to a home.
In testimony Tuesday, Seattle police Detective Al Cruise said investigators believe the stolen Acura Integra was left for Clemmons by an unknown associate. That car had been reported stolen at 12:38 a.m. from a home a few blocks from where Kelly later found it.
Officer Daina Boggs, among the first to arrive after the shooting, testified she found the duty weapon belonging to Richards in Clemmons' pocket. She said she had trouble removing it because the gun was caught on the zipper.
Seattle Interim Police Chief John Diaz, who was in court Wednesday when the findings were read, commended Kelly for his fast-thinking and called him a hero.
"It's an end of a tragic chapter for the city and the officers whose lives have been lost," Diaz said. "Ben Kelly was put in a difficult position."
King County Executive Dow Constantine ordered the inquest into Clemmons' slaying in January.
Under inquest rules, the family of the person killed by police can have an attorney question witnesses, but there was no indication from Clemmons' family that they wanted to participate until Wednesday morning.
Before the jury findings were read, Richardson said she received a phone call from someone claiming to be an investigator working on behalf of the Clemmons family.
The person told Richardson the family wanted to play a role in the inquest, she said.
King County District Court Judge Arthur Chapman, who presided over the inquest, said the family had been given sufficient opportunity to participate, and he declined their request because it came after the jury had reached its decision.
Information from Seattle Times staff reporters Jonathan Martin, Steve Miletich and Times archives is included in this report.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org