Newspaper argues for release of Clemmons police records

OLYMPIA - Washington's largest newspaper has asked the state Supreme Court to release police files from last year's fatal shootings of four police officers, saying there's no evidence the documents would jeopardize fair trials for six people accused of helping the shooter.

But one of those defendants strongly disputed The Seattle Times’ argument Tuesday, saying the constitutional right to a fair trial far outweighs any right to public access of government records under state law.

The case centers around the November killing of four Lakewood police officers gunned down during a coffee break. The shooter, exconvict Maurice Clemmons, was shot and killed two days later by a Seattle officer amid a massive manhunt.

The Times is seeking more than 2,000 pages of police records from the case. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department was ready to turn over the reports, photos and other documents, but the defendants accused of aiding Clemmons requested the material be withheld from public view.

A Pierce County Superior Court judge agreed, finding that public access to the files could hurt the defendants’ chances for fair trials. Another judge later sealed records from the completed trial of Clemmons’ sister, La-Tanya Clemmons, who was sentenced to five years in prison for giving criminal assistance.

The Times and other news organizations objected, and the battle is now at the state Supreme Court. It’s not clear when the court might rule, but decisions typically take several weeks or more to develop.