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Originally published April 4, 2010 at 5:40 PM | Page modified April 5, 2010 at 3:32 PM

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Inquest jury to hear from Seattle officer who killed Clemmons

The Seattle police officer who shot and killed Maurice Clemmons will break his public silence Monday when he tells an inquest jury what happened in the quiet South Seattle neighborhood where he came face-to-face with the man who gunned down four police officers in November.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Shooting inquest

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Monday in courtroom 815, King County Courthouse, 516 Third Ave. in Seattle. The public is welcome.

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The Seattle police officer who shot and killed Maurice Clemmons will break his public silence Monday when he tells an inquest jury what happened in the quiet South Seattle neighborhood where he came face-to-face with the man who gunned down four police officers in November.

Officer Benjamin L. Kelly, along with other Seattle officers and a doctor with the King County Medical Examiner's Office, will testify during a fact-finding hearing that will determine whether the shooting was justified. King County District Court Judge Arthur Chapman will preside. Testimony will begin Monday afternoon.

Inquests often are called after fatal officer-involved shootings to determine whether the officer acted properly.

King County Executive Dow Constantine ordered the inquest into Clemmons' slaying in January.

Inquests are fact-finding trials before a six-person district-court jury. At the end of testimony, the jury is asked to answer questions generated by the judge, a deputy county prosecutor and attorneys for the police and the slain person's family, if the family chooses to participate.

The main question posed is whether an officer feared for his or her life when deadly force was used.

If a jury finds deadly force was unnecessary, the findings will be forwarded to the Prosecutor's Office to determine whether criminal charges are necessary. The jury does not have to be unanimous in its decision.

Chapman, said the inquest into Clemmons' slaying is of particular interest to the public and media because the case is so high profile. Security officials say there will be an added presence outside the courtroom.

Chapman said he expects the inquest to last two days and feature testimony from Kelly, Officer Daina Boggs, Detective Russ Weklych and Dr. Aldo Fusaro of the King County Medical Examiner's Office. Boggs was the first patrol officer at the scene after Clemmons was shot.

The family of the person slain can have an attorney question witnesses at inquest hearings, but it's unclear if Clemmons' family will have legal representation, court officials said.

On Nov. 29, Clemmons walked into a Parkland, Pierce County, coffee shop and opened fire at a table of Lakewood police officers. Killed were Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards.

Richards managed to wound Clemmons, 37.

The shooting ignited an intense, two-day manhunt that ended when Kelly encountered Clemmons at 2:45 a.m. in the 4400 block of South Kenyon Street. Kelly had stopped to investigate a parked silver 1990 Acura Integra with its hood raised. The engine was running, and nobody was inside.

Police believe Clemmons had stolen the car, which broke down about five blocks from where it had been taken.

As Kelly 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, police said. Kelly 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," Seattle Assistant Chief Jim Pugel said shortly after the shooting.

Kelly 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.

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.

Kelly never has spoken publicly about the shooting; a source has said he wanted the focus to remain on the slain Lakewood officers.

Six relatives and friends of Clemmons' have been charged with helping the man elude police after the killings.

A seventh suspect, Darcus Allen, who drove Clemmons away from the coffee shop, has been charged with four counts of aggravated first-degree murder.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

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