Inquest jury rules Seattle officer believed Clemmons posed threat

SEATTLE - An inquest jury found Wednesday that a Seattle police officer believed he was in imminent danger when he killed a man who had shot four Lakewood officers to death.

The six jury members were unanimous in determining that officer Benjamin Kelly believed Maurice Clemmons posed an imminent threat of death or serious injury to Kelly or others in the Dec. 1 confrontation. It came two days after Clemmons gunned down the officers at a coffee shop.

The King County District Court jury also found that Kelly saw Clemmons move his hands toward his waist before Kelly opened fire. Clemmons died a short time later after being hit by four of Kelly’s seven shots.

The two questions, among 19 the jury considered, were central to the fact-finding inquest into the shooting that occurred as Kelly was investigating a stolen car in a south Seattle neighborhood. Testimony in the case began Monday, and the jury started deliberations Tuesday afternoon.

An inquest is not a criminal trial. The results will be forwarded to the county prosecutor’s office to determine whether any charges are warranted.

The Nov. 29 ambush of the Lakewood officers set off a massive manhunt in the Puget Sound area for Clemmons, who also was wounded by Officer Greg Richards before the officer died. The inquest jury was told that Richards’ service pistol was found in the front pocket of Clemmons’ sweat shirt after the confrontation with Kelly.

Kelly, 39, a five-year Seattle police veteran, testified Monday that Clemmons refused repeated orders to show his hands after Kelly recognized him. He said Clemmons had approached the driver’s side of his patrol car and was about four feet away when he began firing after Clemmons reached toward his waist and turned away from him.

“I thought I could be dead in a matter of seconds,” Kelly told the jury.

Jurors could not determine whether Kelly ordered Clemmons to show his hands before he fired, voting that it was “unknown” whether Kelly issued the warning. The panel was unanimous in its votes on all 19 questions.

Jury members declined to comment after their findings were announced, The Seattle Times reported.

“I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to present the facts in this matter,” Kelly told the newspaper. “I hope this brings some closure to the families of the Lakewood officers.”

In addition to Richards, Clemmons killed Lakewood Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold and Ronald Owens as the four were doing paperwork at the start of their shift.