Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee granted clemency in 2000 to man sought in connection to killings; Issues statement attempting to deflect some of the blame; ABC: Huckabee freed other criminals
Four police officers were gunned down in an execution-style ambush at a coffee shop in Washington state, triggering a manhunt for a convicted armed robber with a history of violence.
Pierce County Sheriff's Office spokesman Ed Troyer said the victims were sitting at a table in the cafe before their shift when a lone gunman entered and started shooting at around 8:15 am (1615 GMT) local time.
"We have somebody out there who blatantly went in and opened fire on four police officers, killing all four of them," Troyer said following the shooting near McChord Air Force base in Tacoma, south of Seattle.
Late Sunday the identities of the victims -- who were all wearing uniform including bulletproof vests at the time of the attack -- were released.
The dead were named as Sergeant Mark Renninger, 39, Ronald Owens, 37, Tina Griswold, 40, and Greg Richards, 42. All of the officers were married with children, police said.
Troyer said the officers, from nearby Lakewood Police Department, had been specifically targeted, noting that staff and customers at the coffee shop had not been shot at. "This was more of an execution. Walk in with the specific mindset to shoot police officers."
The suspected gunman was described as a "black male in his 20s or 30s" Troyer told reporters. "He walked in with a handgun, opened fire multiple times and fled the scene," he said.
Pierce County Sheriff's Office said later Sunday they were seeking Maurice Clemmons, 37, for questioning as a "person of interest in the case."
The Seattle Times reported that he has eight felony charges in Washington state and five felony convictions in Arkansas. He had been in jail in Pierce County for several months until recently, pending a charge of second-degree rape of a child.
Clemmons served only a fraction of a 35-year prison term in Arkansas before his sentence was controversially commuted by the state's then Governor Mike Huckabee, who mounted an unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, the Times added.
Troyer earlier told King 5 local television that one of the mortally wounded officers may have traded fire with the gunman.
"There is evidence that a Lakewood Police officer fired off some shots and we hope that he hit him," Troyer said. "If he's hit, that means that he's injured somewhere with a gunshot wound."
Troyer said local hospitals had been alerted in case the suspect sought medical attention.
Police set up tiplines and offered a 10,000-dollar reward for anyone with information about those responsible for the shooting.
Around 200 officers from different law enforcement agencies were involved in the hunt for the shooting suspect late Sunday, police said.
"We have no motive at all," Troyer told King 5. "I don't think when we find out what it is, it will be anything that makes any sense or be worth it."
Washington Governor Chris Gregoire voiced her shock at the shootings, which local media said was the worst single loss of life involving law enforcement officers in state history.
"I am shocked and horrified at the murder of four police officers this morning in Pierce County," Gregoire said.
Huckabee attempts to deflect some of the blame
Attempting to deflect some of the blame, Huckabee said in a statement on his website that if Clemmons was responsible for the shootings "it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington State."
He was recommended for and received a commutation of his original sentence from 1990. This commutation making him parole eligible and was paroled by the parole board once they determined he met the conditions at that time. He was arrested later for parole violation and taken back to prison to serve his full term, but prosecutors dropped the charges that would have held him.
The Washington Independent's David Weigel notes that at the HuckPAC website there is "trouble in Hucktown" where some critical comments are being left complaining about the former governor trying to deflect the blame.
"As I read this statement many share in the responsibility for allowing a dangerous man to roam the streets," one Linda Martino writes. "It lists many except Mike Huckabee. I would have been more impressed if Mr. Huckanee took some responsibility instead of naming everyone else. Either name all or don’t list anyone."
A Kathy Hughes complains, "If you bear any responsibility at all, you MUST own up to it. I am so sick of politicians always blaming everyone else but themselves for what they’ve messed up."
"Any political ambitions of former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee could be hurt by his role in freeing Maurice Clemmons, the gunman suspected in the execution murders of four police officers in Washington State -- especially since Clemmons would not be the first criminal Huckabee helped to free who later committed murder," Mark Schone writes.
Four years earlier, Huckabee also pushed for the parole of rapist Wayne Dumond despite chilling testimonies from victims and their relatives that he was a dangerous criminal who would strike again. Ashley Stevens, a 17-year-old cheerleader when Dumond raped her, told ABC News in 2007 that she put her face inches from Huckabee's and said, "This is how close I was to Wayne Dumond, and I will never forget his face, and you will never forget mine. He's the one that raped me."
But Dumond, serving a life sentence for raping Stevens, was released in 1999 following reported public and private efforts by Huckabee on his behalf. Within a year of his release, he was accused of raping and murdering two more women. He was convicted of raping and murdering one of the women and returned to jail, where he died in 2005.
In one, a woman tells of how Dumond raped her daughter, while her three-year-old grandchild looked on, Waas wrote.
Huckabee was criticized during the 2008 presidential primaries for his clemency record. According to the Associated Press, Huckabee granted 1,033 clemencies during his 10 years in office. That figure is more than twice the total racked up by his three predecessors as governor in 17 years.
"If I could have known nine years ago, looked into the future, would I have acted favorably upon the parole board's recommendation? Of course not," Huckabee said on Fox News radio. "One of the things that is horrible and just, again, one of the realities you have to confront is the criminal justice system is far from perfect, and in this case it failed miserably on all sides."
This video was published by the Associated Press on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009.
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News photo sample credit: Reuters.