Routine stolen-car check led to Lakewood police-slaying suspect
On a quiet Seattle street early Tuesday morning, a police officer filling out paperwork on a stolen car he had come upon encountered Maurice Clemmons, who was wanted in the slaying of four Lakewood police officers. When Clemmons refused to follow the officer's commands, the officer shot him dead.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Coverage from the days following the Lakewood shootings
What began as a routine check of a stolen car early Tuesday morning became, in a matter of minutes, a momentous piece of police work.
When it was over, Maurice Clemmons, the 37-year-old suspect in the slaying of four Lakewood police officers, was dead, shot by a Seattle police officer who had been doing paperwork on the stolen car when he suddenly encountered Clemmons.
The officer, identified by a law-enforcement source as Benjamin L. Kelly, a South Precinct patrolman who joined the department less than five years ago, emerged uninjured — and fortunate to be alive, according to police officials.
Clemmons, an ex-convict facing a potential prison term on child-rape and assault charges, was armed with a handgun taken from one of the Lakewood officers, police said.
The confrontation between Clemmons and Kelly, which occurred about 2:45 a.m. in the 4400 block of South Kenyon Street in South Seattle, broke the quiet of a residential neighborhood and ended a two-day manhunt for Clemmons.
During that time, SWAT teams had gone from house to house looking for Clemmons, but in the end, it came down to the actions of a single officer.
Police officials said Clemmons was shot at least twice after the officer recognized him and Clemmons refused commands to stop.
Clemmons also had an older wound to his abdomen, believed to be the result of a gunshot fired by one of the Lakewood officers who were killed Sunday.
Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff's Office, the agency investigating the slayings of the Lakewood officers, said he was surprised Clemmons survived that wound.
Seattle police, in a written statement that didn't identify Kelly by name, said the officer joined the department just over 4 ½ years ago. The statement said the officer has prior law-enforcement experience and is a military veteran.
Kelly grew up in New Jersey, said Rachel Laffend of New Jersey, whose brother is married to Kelly's sister.
Contacted by telephone, she immediately knew the reason, saying, "I know. I know. We've been watching."
Laffend said Kelly had asked family members not to talk to the news media "because he is sort of a private guy and he doesn't want to say anything."
But Laffend said Kelly is a "really awesome person and a nice guy."
Kelly has said he wants the focus to remain on the slain Lakewood officers, a source said.
Kelly was on patrol when he saw a silver 1990 Acura Integra with its hood up, the engine running and nobody inside.
Seattle Assistant Chief Jim Pugel, without identifying Kelly, said the officer ran the license plate and determined the car was stolen.
It had been reported stolen from the 4800 block of South Chicago Street, only a few blocks away, about two hours earlier.
As the officer sat in his patrol car writing a report on the stolen car, he noticed a man approaching the driver's side of the patrol car from behind, the department said.
The officer got out of his car and immediately recognized Clemmons, police said.
"He ordered the person to stop. He ordered the person to show his hands. That person would not show his hands, and also began to run away counterclockwise around the vehicle," Pugel said.
The officer again told Clemmons to stop, and he didn't comply, Pugel said.
As the officer drew his gun, Clemmons "reached into his waist area and moved," the department said in a written statement.
The officer then fired several shots at Clemmons, striking him at least twice, the statement said.
Clemmons collapsed near some bushes on the north side of the street, the statement said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The man was identified as Clemmons based on his description and other information, Pugel said.
A handgun was found in a front pocket of a sweat shirt Clemmons was wearing, police said. A check of the serial number showed the gun belonged to one of the Lakewood police officers, Pugel said.
Troyer, the Pierce County sheriff's spokesman, did not identify whose gun was taken.
Clemmons, who allegedly was helped by relatives and friends while eluding police, apparently had no tie to residents on the block where he was killed, Pugel said.
A balky vehicle
Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar arrived at the scene a few hours after Tuesday's shooting, to express relief and appreciation.
"I just want to thank all my brothers and sisters in law enforcement," he said. "I just can't say enough about what they've done in the last few days.
"What went through my mind mostly was ... we can close the page on this and we can get our people together and start the healing process," Farrar said.
Harvey Lagon reported the car theft about 12:45 a.m. Tuesday from his residence about five blocks from the shooting scene. Lagon was watching television when he heard a car start up and heard someone revving the engine.
"I looked out the window and it was my car," he said.
"I'm the one who called the cops," he said. "I was going to go after him. It's a good thing I didn't."
The Integra is owned by his father, Rodolfo Lagon.
In the end, the car's problems — Harvey Lagon noted that it sometimes dies — helped police.
"It's not a very reliable car," he said. "We only use it for short trips."
Seattle Times reporters Jennifer Sullivan, Mark Rahner, Sara Jean Green, Mike Carter and Mike Lindblom and news researchers Miyoko Wolf and Gene Balk contributed to this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org