Saying there was "no other appropriate sentence," a Pierce County judge on Thursday gave cop killer Maurice Clemmons' sister the maximum prison term available - five years.
A jury last week convicted LaTanya K. Clemmons, 34, of two counts of first-degree rendering criminal assistance.
Prosecutors convinced jurors that Clemmons knew police were seeking her brother’s alleged getaway driver, Dorcus Allen, when she drove him to a Federal Way motel Nov. 29 and gave him money for a room.
Allen is accused of helping Maurice Clemmons after he gunned down Lakewood police Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Greg Richards and Ronald Owens as they gathered before their Sunday-morning shift at a Parkland coffee shop.
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LaTanya Clemmons admitted her actions but said she didn’t know police were seeking Allen at the time. She maintained that position Thursday through her attorney, Helen Whitener.
“She did not know what Dorcus Allen did,” Whitener said in asking for a sentence of six to 12 months in jail.
Jurors didn’t buy Clemmons’ claims of ignorance.
Ray Ellsworth, a retired Tacoma laborer who served on the jury, attended the sentencing and spoke to reporters afterward. “She had to know what was going on,” said Ellsworth, pointing out that Allen lived with LaTanya Clemmons and that she’d been monitoring news reports on the day of the shootings.
Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend agreed.
“It is incomprehensible to me that she did not know that Dorcus Allen potentially played a role in what Maurice Clemmons did the morning of Nov. 29,” Arend said.
After shooting the four police officers, Maurice Clemmons fled in a white pickup truck authorities believe was driven by Allen. A manhunt unprecedented in state history ensued. It ended 42 hours later when a police officer shot Maurice Clemmons dead on a Seattle street.
Allen later was arrested and charged as an accomplice with four counts of aggravated first-degree murder. He faces a potential death sentence when he goes to trial next year.
Prosecutors wanted a sentence of 10 years for LaTanya Clemmons, asking Arend to sentence her to five years on both counts and to order the terms served consecutively.
Deputy prosecutor Kevin McCann asked Arend to depart from the standard range of six to 12 months in jail and impose the statutory maximum of five years.
Jurors gave the judge the ability to depart from the standard range when they found LaTanya Clemmons’ crime was worse than normal because it was directed at law enforcement officers performing their duties and had a “destructive and foreseeable impact” on someone aside from the victims.
“Our community was in terror and fear of what had happened,” McCann argued.
“If this is not the case (for the maximum), there never will be one.”
McCann went on to attack LaTanya Clemmons’ character and intimated she was a bad mother for taking her 6-year-old daughter with her when she drove Allen to her aunt’s home in Pacific just hours after the shootings.
Whitener then had her say. She started off by apologizing on behalf of her client to the Lakewood officers’ friends and relatives.
“She is sorry for what her brother has done, and she’s going to pay for that for the rest of her life,” the defense attorney said as she turned to the part of the gallery where victims’ representatives sat.
Whitener then gave a passionate defense of LaTanya Clemmons, saying she worked three jobs, had no criminal record and tried to get help for her brother by calling police in May 2009 when she realized his mental illness was driving him to violence.
“This system failed him, and this system failed the four officers,” she said. “If the system had listened to her, we would not be here today.”
Whitener took issue with McCann’s attack on her client’s mothering skills.
“How dare you?” Whitener said as she turned toward the prosecution table. “You don’t know this woman. You don’t know the relationship she has with her child.”
LaTanya Clemmons declined to speak on her own behalf. Whitener said her client was too overcome.
The judge had the last word.
“There can be no question that the assassination of four Lakewood police officers is a tragedy of epic proportions,” Arend said. “However, there also can be no question that LaTanya Clemmons’ actions later that day of providing money to Dorcus Allen and transporting him to a motel room would not have changed the fate of those officers. But her actions did delay the apprehension of Dorcus Allen and arguably the delay and ultimate death of her brother, Maurice Clemmons.
“The impact of the delay in apprehension was very broad and far-reaching, certainly in the law enforcement community,” the judge said. “I believe that there is no other appropriate sentence other than the maximum under the law – five years.”