A Pierce County judge is to issue a key ruling next week that could weaken prosecutors' case against cop killer Maurice Clemmons' half-brother.
Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend must decide whether to throw out incriminating statements Rickey Hinton made to law enforcement in the days after Clem-mons gunned down four Lakewood police officers at a Parkland coffee shop.
The statements largely form the basis of the three first-degree rendering criminal assistance charges Hinton faces for allegedly helping Clemmons after the Nov. 29 massacre.
He’s pleaded not guilty to lying to law enforcement about Clemmons’ whereabouts, providing keys to a car used to take the killer out of Pierce County and destroying evidence by deleting Clemmons-related records from his cell phone.
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Hinton’s attorney, Philip Thornton, argued Thursday that law enforcement improperly obtained the statements after illegally detaining his client twice after the shootings. Thornton also told Arend detectives failed to inform his client of his rights in a timely and appropriate fashion.
“The government can’t just grab you and hold you at their leisure whenever they want,” Thornton argued.
Any statements gleaned during those detentions are “fruit from the poisonous tree” and shouldn’t be allowed as evidence at trial, the defense attorney said.
Deputy prosecutor Stephen Penner disagreed. He argued police had the right to detain Hinton and his statements were given either voluntarily or after he was advised of his Miranda rights and, therefore, admissible.
“His brother has just killed four police officers, and he’s offered to help,” Penner told Arend. “Of course, they’re going to want to talk to him.”
At issue is law enforcement’s contact with Hinton on Nov. 29 – the day Clem-mons killed the Lakewood officers – and Nov. 30 when they arrested Hinton for allegedly helping his half-brother.
The matter was subject to a two-day hearing this week in Arend’s courtroom.
On Nov. 29, two law enforcement officers stopped Hinton and his 10-year-old grandson as they walked away from a compound of homes Clemmons owned not long after the shooting of Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards.
At one point, they handcuffed Hinton, 47, and placed him in the back seat of a sheriff’s SUV, the doors of which can be opened only from the outside. They kept him there for about 90 minutes before deciding to let him out, according to court records. They later took him to a sheriff’s department substation at Sprinker Recreation Center where they questioned him for hours about Clemmons’ whereabouts.
He wasn’t placed under arrest or read his Miranda rights that day. Detectives also never told him he was free to go, even though he was, according to testimony given during the hearing.
Thornton argued his client was “seized,” and, therefore, deserved to be read his rights. Any incriminating statements he made that day should be suppressed, he said.
Penner argued that officers have a right to detain a person briefly to determine whether he or she was involved in a crime or is a danger. That’s what they did when they locked Hinton in the SUV, he said.
They later released him, and Hinton agreed to go with them to Sprinker and answer questions, Penner argued. The police had no duty to tell him he was free to go unless he asked them, which he didn’t, the deputy prosecutors said. They let him go later that night.
The next day, law enforcement officers stopped a car in which Hinton was riding in South King County. They detained him and drove him to Pierce County for hours more questioning. They then read him his rights, questioned him more and subsequently arrested him.
Thornton argued law enforcement had no right to stop his client on Nov. 30 and should have informed him of his rights immediately.
Penner said law enforcement did have authority to stop Hinton.
“He lied to the police the day before, and Maurice Clemmons was still at large because of it,” the deputy prosecutor said.
Arend is expected to issue her ruling Thursday.