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Originally published December 1, 2009 at 3:57 PM | Page modified December 2, 2009 at 8:29 AM

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States at odds over warrant that might have kept Clemmons in jail

Arkansas officials today provided what they say is a copy of a warrant they say could have kept Maurice Clemmons in a Washington jail, preventing his release six days before he allegedly killed four Lakewood police officers. But Washington corrections officials dispute that claim, saying it was not valid in Washington and that Arkansas had essentially washed its hands of Clemmons

Seattle Times staff reporters

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Maurice Clemmons clemency and parole documents (PDF)

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Arkansas officials today provided what they say is a copy of a warrant they say could have kept Maurice Clemmons in a Washington jail, preventing his release six days before he allegedly killed four Lakewood police officers.

But Washington corrections officials dispute that claim, saying it was not valid in Washington and that Arkansas had essentially washed its hands of Clemmons.

Whatever the intent, the result was that Clemmons was freed from jail on Nov. 23, six days before the four slayings.

Pierce County's Superior Court system has no record of a warrant being issued by Arkansas.

This warrant was the second issued by Arkansas this year for Clemmons. It came after the two states got into a bitter dispute in July, when Arkansas canceled an initial no-bail warrant that accused Clemmons of violating his parole in that state.

That decision angered officials in Washington desperate to keep Clemmons behind bars without the chance to post bond, correspondence shows.

"Hopefully, the offender will not get out on bail," a Washington corrections official wrote to Arkansas at that time.

At the time, Clemmons was facing eight felony charges in Pierce County, including accusations that he had assaulted two sheriff's deputies and raped a 12-year-old relative.

Police records also indicate Clemmons was deteriorating mentally, calling himself Jesus and expressing worry that the Secret Service was coming after him.

Clemmons had a long criminal history in Arkansas, including at least five prior felony convictions. He was last paroled from prison in 2004 in that state, but remained under supervision. He moved to Washington state soon after being released, and Arkansas transferred supervision responsibilities to the Washington State Department of Corrections.

Arkansas issued a "absconder" warrant on May 28, accusing Clemmons of violating his parole in Arkansas by getting into trouble in Washington. That warrant, which would be used to return Clemmons to Arkansas, would have allowed Pierce County to keep Clemmons in custody without offering him the chance to post bail.

But on July 16, an official in Arkansas, Barry Garland, wrote an e-mail to Washington state officials, saying his state was withdrawing its warrant.

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Another Arkansas document obtained today says the warrant "was recalled at the request of (Arkansas Department of Community Correction) director G. David Guntharp after conversations he had with the offender's wife and mother."

Guntharp, in an interview today, said he does not recall discussing the matter with Clemmons' family. Clemmons' mother died years ago.

On July 23, a week after Garland sent his e-mail, Marjorie Owens from the Washington State Department of Corrections wrote back, saying: "Please provide your justification for canceling the abscond warrant."

She added: "I'm concerned that you have no problem releasing your offender into our community, based on his behavior. I thought ICAOS was all about community safety."

ICAOS stands for Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision, an organization that oversees a compact between states to help keep tabs on people who have been released from custody but remain under watch.

Based on Arkansas' refusal to keep its warrant in effect, Washington dismissed its charge accusing Clemmons of being a fugitive on July 23.

Washington DOC Secretary Eldon Vail said today that Arkansas' decision to withdraw the first warrant essentially dumped Clemmons on Washington.

"[Gov. Chris Gregoire's] question to me about this case is a good one: Why would we ever take anyone from Arkansas in the future," said Vail. "I haven't gotten back to her."

Arkansas' second warrant for Clemmons — the one issued Oct. 2 — remains the subject of heated dispute.

Guntharp, the Arkansas community corrections director, said that warrant ought to have kept Clemmons in jail.

"They could have used the October warrant," Guntharp said.

But Scott Blonien, an in-house attorney for the Washington DOC, said two key elements indicated that Arkansas did not intend to make the warrant enforceable — and compel Arkansas to re-take Clemmons.

A coversheet attached to the Oct. 2 warrant left unchecked a box that reads: "Warrant issued. Keep us appraised of offender's availability for retaking," a term that means sending an offender home. The May 28 warrant had that box checked.

And, unlike the May 28 warrant, the second one does not indicate the warrant was entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a nationwide law enforcement database that lists outstanding warrants and would have been available for Pierce County Superior Court.

"If (Arkansas) had done it, and done it properly, Pierce County would have seen it and acted on it," said Blonien.

An official with the Pierce County Superior Court said today there is no record of the Oct. 2 warrant in files there.

On Tuesday, Washington's DOC issued a timeline this afternoon saying the warrant was "valid only in Arkansas and asked Washington to continue to supervise Clemmons and notify them of what happens with his case."

On Nov. 23, Clemmons was able to post $190,000 bail, securing his release from the Pierce County Jail, where he was being held on the eight pending felony charges.

On Nov. 29, Clemmons allegedly killed the four police officers in a Parkland coffee shop.

Staff reporters Susan Kelleher and Maureen O'Hagan contributed to this report.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com

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