After Maurice Clemmons gunned down four Lakewood police officers at a Parkland coffee shop early on the morning of Nov. 29, he was able to make a quick escape.
Despite a gunshot wound to the abdomen, Clemmons was able to escape the grasp of Puget Sound law enforcement officers who blanketed the region in search of the cop killer. For two days Clemmons escaped capture before a chance encounter with a Seattle police officer resulted in Clemmons’ death.
Six people have been charged with helping Clemmons elude law enforcement in those intervening hours — everything from driving the getaway vehicle to helping to hide Clemmons.
Supporters of the deceased officers — Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Greg Richards and Ronald Owens — went to the Legislature with a request that penalties for rendering criminal assistance be enhanced.
Lawmakers responded with Substitute Senate Bill 6293. The bill passed the House and Senate on unanimous votes and was signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
We raise this issue today because the new law goes into effect in less than a month — on June 10. It’s a reasonable solution to the inequity of existing law exposed by the Clemmons case.
Six people — Rickey Hinton, Latanya Clemmons, Letricia Nelson, Eddie Lee Davis, Douglas Davis and Quiana Williams — have been charged with rendering criminal assistance. All have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
Under existing law, helping a murderer escape capture can be punished by up to five years in prison. But if the person rendering assistance is a relative — husband or wife, brother or sister, parent or grandparent, child or grandchild, step-child or step-parent — the crime is a gross misdemeanor, punishable by a year in the county jail.
The fact that the crime carries such a low penalty was cited by a Pierce County judge in lowering bail for two of Clemmons’ alleged accomplices.
Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend reduced Hinton’s bail to $500,000 from $2 million and Latanya Clemmons’ bail to $100,000 from $1.5 million. Arend said the original bails were “extraordinarily high and excessive” for a charge of rendering criminal assistance.
Potential penalties will change under the new law — SSB 6293. Anyone who aided a person charged with murder, for example, could be charged with a class B felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The family exemption goes away and only relatives under the age of 18 would face a gross misdemeanor charge of rendering criminal assistance. What constitutes rendering criminal assistance? It is:
• Harboring or concealing a person.
• Warning the person of impending discovery or apprehension.
• Providing money, transportation, disguise, or other means of avoiding discovery or apprehension.
• Preventing or obstructing, by use of force, deception, or threat, anyone from performing an act that might aid in discovery or apprehension.
• Concealing or destroying physical evidence that might aid in the apprehension.
• Providing a weapon to the person.
Those who testified in support of the legislation, including Tom McBride, from the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and Toni McKinley, on behalf of the Washington Coalition of Crime Victim Advocates, said adults need to know that when they make certain choices, they are going to be held accountable for their actions.
Bob Cooper, representing the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Washington Defender Association, argued against the legislation, saying there should remain a difference in punishment for people who are helping a relative.
Lawmakers didn’t buy it. Anyone who helps a murderer escape the long arm of the law, could find himself or herself behind bars for a prolonged period.
That’s as it should be. The new law is one of the positive outcomes from the horrific murder of the four Lakewood police officers.