A defense attorney representing cop killer Maurice Clemmons' alleged getaway driver contends that law enforcement officers misled a Pierce County Superior Court judge to get a search warrant used to gather evidence against her client.
Mary K. High, one of the top lawyers in the county’s Department of Assigned Counsel, contends in court pleadings that officers showed a “reckless disregard for the truth” when requesting the warrant and has asked that evidence collected using it be thrown out.
High and defense attorney Peter Mazzone represent Dorcus Allen, who is charged as an accomplice with four counts of aggravated first-degree murder in the Nov. 29, 2009, deaths of Lakewood police Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Greg Richards and Ronald Owens.
Prosecutors allege Allen, 39, drove Clemmons to a spot near the Parkland coffee shop where Clemmons killed the four officers and then drove the gunman from the scene. They also contend Allen knew what Clemmons intended to do.
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A Seattle police officer shot Clemmons, 37, dead about 40 hours after the massacre of the Lakewood officers.
Allen, who’s pleaded not guilty, faces life in prison without the possibility of release if convicted as charged. He is to go to trial March 1.
Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said last week that the search warrant the defense is questioning was grounded in solid police work and will withstand High’s challenge.
“This was excellent police work because detectives were able to identify the getaway driver through good old-fashioned persistence, beating the bushes, talking to everyone and sharing information between agencies,” Lindquist said.
Lindquist, who will try the case with deputy prosecutor Stephen Penner, said he’s confident they could win a conviction even if the disputed evidence is thrown out.
He said Allen lied to investigators about several things after his arrest and that there is evidence implicating Allen that was not seized as a result of the search warrant.
“We remain confident in our case,” Lindquist said.
High wrote in her pleadings that King County sheriff’s detective Steve Johnson and Pierce County sheriff’s detective John Jiminez, at best, stretched the truth in their pursuit of Allen after the attack on the Lakewood officers.
Emotions were running high as law enforcement officers from around the Puget Sound region pursued Clemmons and people suspected of helping him, she wrote.
“Media coverage, reward money, anonymous tip lines and impassioned pleas for the public’s help by police all combined to elevate the investigation into a frenzy,” High wrote.
Jiminez authored an affidavit presented to Pierce County Superior Court Judge James Orlando seeking permission to search a Federal Way motel room where Allen was taken into custody Dec. 1.
The veteran detective wrote that Clemmons and Allen had been staying in the motel and, citing information provided by Johnson, that Allen had “secreted” Clemmons in King County after the shooting.
Jiminez also wrote that Clemmons and Allen had been using a car parked outside the motel room. Detectives also were seeking permission to search the car.
None of those statements turned out to be true, and the police knew it or should have known it at the time Jiminez prepared the search warrant, High wrote.
As an example, the defense attorney cited the fact that Johnson wrote in a police report that a few hours before Allen’s arrest he talked to a witness who told him she knew Allen had served as Clemmons’ getaway driver during the attack on the Lakewood officers.
The witness did not repeat that information during a subsequent recorded interview with other detectives, despite being asked, and disavowed telling him that altogether in an interview with an investigator hired by Allen’s defense team, according to police reports and other court records.
“This warrant was invalid on its face,” High wrote. “At best, most of the supporting ‘evidence’ contained in the affidavit was not supported by any credible facts known to the police.
“At worst, the affidavit included information asserted as ‘fact’ but stated with reckless disregard regarding its truth.”
Spokesmen for the King County Sheriff’s Office and Pierce County Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on High’s assertions.
“Search warrants are often subject to legal challenges,” Pierce County sheriff’s detective Sgt. Jerry Bates told The News Tribune in an e-mail last week. “The trial process is the appropriate forum for addressing legal challenges.”
High has asked for a hearing before Superior Court Judge Frederick Fleming to address her allegations. Fleming has yet to address her request.
Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/crime