Court might bar cameras from Clemmons case

A Pierce County judge said Thursday the county should do whatever it can to ensure that cop killer Maurice Clemmons' suspected getaway driver receives a fair trial.

That might include banning news cameras from Dorcus D. Allen’s court appearances, Superior Court Judge Frederick Fleming said.

“The Supreme Court of the United States of America says there aren’t any cameras in the courtroom, no audio in the courtroom, no television in the courtroom,” Fleming told Allen’s defense attorneys during a pre-trial hearing. “And I think you ought to address that issue, also. We’re not going to have a circus here.”

Karen Peterson, executive editor of The News Tribune, said the newspaper would fight any attempt to ban cameras from the courtroom.

“We are quite practiced at photographing trials without disrupting the proceedings and would of course do so in this instance,” Peterson said. “Particularly in a case of this importance, the public has a right to read about and see what’s going on.”

Public defender Mary K. High and co-counsel Peter Mazzone had planned to argue Thursday that Fleming should place restrictions on the photography of their client until his case is resolved.

They hoped to convince the judge to allow only one camera in court at a time, with the expectation that the chosen photographer would share images with other news outlets, according to a pleading they filed last month.

Such restrictions are not uncommon in high-profile cases, and state law allows judges to put reasonable restrictions on photography in their courtrooms.

The defense team also planned to ask Fleming to forbid photographers from taking shots of their client in shackles. Fleming interjected the idea of no cameras at all.

“I want that researched,” he said. “You know, there is no more serious trial than a trial like this, and we’re not, if I can help it, going to make any mistakes.” In 2004, the Washington State Supreme Court invalidated the death sentence of a Tacoma man because a juror might have seen the defendant in shackles during the sentencing phase of trial.

The high court ruled the sight of the defendant in shackles prejudiced his right to a fair hearing by making him appear dangerous.

Fleming presided over that case.

Allen, 39, is charged as an accomplice with four counts of aggravated first-degree murder in the deaths of Lakewood police Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Greg Richards and Ronald Owens.

Clemmons gunned the four down Nov. 29 at a Parkland coffee shop. Prosecutors allege Allen knew what Clemmons intended to do and drove him to and from the coffee shop.

Allen, also known by the first name Darcus, has pleaded not guilty to aggravated first-degree murder, a crime that carries a possible death sentence.

At High’s request, Fleming ruled that from now on Allen should attend his court hearings in street clothes and without being shackled. The judge also ordered Allen be allowed to shower and shave before court.

Lindquist did not object.

Jailers may make Allen wear a stun belt under his clothes instead of shackles, deputy prosecutor Craig Adams said during Thursday’s hearing.

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644