State agencies, lawmakers ask what went wrong

State Rep. Christopher Hurst of Enumclaw plans committee hearings in January to explore why the presumed killer of four Lakewood police officers was free on bail as he awaited trial on child-rape charges.

Meanwhile, state agencies that report to Gov. Chris Gregoire are looking into what steps they might have taken to prevent the carnage that broke out in a Parkland coffee shop Sunday morning. Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Greg Richards and Ronald Owens died in the shootings.

Suspect Maurice Clemmons was shot and killed by Seattle police early Tuesday; he had been labeled dangerous by Western State Hospital authorities who evaluated his competence to stand trial in Pierce County. Clemmons was evaluated in October and released from jail after posting a $190,000 bond Nov. 24.

“This is a guy who slipped through the cracks way too many times, and there were more than enough red flags along the way that somebody should have seen,” Hurst said. “I’m looking at policy issues. What are the policies and state laws that were not working properly? This simply should not have happened with a person of this history.”

Hurst said it makes no sense to let a person facing a possible third-strike offense, which leads to automatic life imprisonment, out of custody for “one last chance to benefit from a life of crime … to rape, pillage, kill, whatever you choose to do. … That’s one of about 50 questions that should be asked.”

Hurst, a Democrat who serves as the chairman of the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee, said he wants open-ended hearings that could lead to follow-up or research by the Sentencing Guidelines Commission or others. But the most pressing priority is helping the families of the slain officers, Hurst said Tuesday.

The state also is reviewing its procedures, said Glenn Kuper, a spokesman for Gregoire.

“We don’t have any intention of creating a special review process,” he said. “However, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Social and Health Services are looking very closely at the records to determine what they did, why, and when, and they’ll be explaining and accounting to the governor what they’ve done.”

Clemmons’ attorney, Daniel J. Murphy Jr., told The News Tribune on Monday that he had intended to seek a diminished-capacity or insanity defense for his client at trial. Despite the cautions of Western State psychologists who labeled Clemmons dangerous, the suspect denied having thoughts of harming officers and was found not to be a candidate for involuntary commitment when he went before judges in November.

He obtained his release by posting bond through a Chehalis bail-bonds company, The News Tribune has reported. In a move that hasn’t been explained, according to the newspaper, Arkansas officials told local prosecutors July 2 that they wanted a no-bail hold on Clemmons but backed off that request July 23.

Lawmakers this year considered a measure, House Bill 1275, to give mental-health evaluators access to records of an offender’s compliance with sentencing orders when considering some involuntary commitments.

Democratic Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson’s bill died in a budget committee after winning approval in the House Human Services Committee. Testimony showed concerns that the state had 1,500 to 2,000 involuntarily committed people waiting for beds to open for their treatment, according to a legislative bill report.

House Republican Deputy Leader Joel Kretz said a bipartisan look at the situation surrounding Clemmons’ release is appropriate. Like Hurst, he said the focus first must be on the families of the slain officers, but he also said lawmakers have been too eager in recent years to release offenders from custody.

Kuper said there is no presumption that the case was mishandled.

“It’s just that when something like this happens it’s appropriate to look at every conceivable angle to see what more could have been done,” he said. “But right now, we haven’t seen any evidence that Corrections mishandled the situation.”

Brad Shannon: 360-704-6869