And now Maurice Clemmons is dead.
It’s good because the alternative almost certainly would have been at least one more dead police officer. Despite the most intensive manhunt ever seen in the Puget Sound area, Clemmons was not tracked down by detectives or cornered by a SWAT team. It is somehow fitting that he met his end in an encounter with a lone officer on routine patrol in the middle of the night, an officer who was engaged in activity almost as mundane as that which occupied the four officers who were killed Sunday morning in Lakewood, Washington.
When Seattle police officer Benjamin Kelly came upon a car parked with its hood up and engine running early Tuesday morning, he checked the license number and learned the car had been stolen hours before. As he filled out the paperwork required to recover the car, Kelly saw a man approaching from behind. Kelly got out and, recognizing Clemmons, ordered him to stop and raise his hands. Rather than comply, Clemmons began running around Kelly’s car, attempting to pull the gun he carried as he did so. Kelly fired, striking Clemmons and killing him. It is clear enough that Clemmons intended to murder Kelly, for why else would he have approached a police officer as he did? And God knows how many others he might have gone on to kill had Kelly not been alert and prepared to take him on.
Much of the commentary on this matter has focused on the failure of various public officials in both Washington and Arkansas to keep Clemmons behind bars despite his epic criminal record and manifest depravity. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, for example, will no doubt see his presidential aspirations buried right along with Clemmons himself, for despite his earnest attempts to avert a downfall, the stench from this will not be easily washed away. Fairly or not, Huckabee will now and for some time to come be known as the Guy Who Sprung the Cop Killer, a victim of the law of unintended consequences.
Whatever the derelictions committed by governors, judges, prosecutors, and parole boards, it is unlikely much will change within the system that allowed Maurice Clemmons to post bail and roam free after being arrested for the latest in his long series of felonies. The criminal justice system is vast and unwieldy, and even if the defects exposed in the Clemmons matter are repaired, there will inevitably be others that will lead to events we can only hope are less catastrophic.
But there is another aspect to this case at least as troubling as the breakdown in the system. It came as no shock to police officers, but the wider public may have been surprised to learn of the assistance Clemmons received from friends and relatives even after he was identified as the suspect wanted in the murder of four police officers. “Loyal friends, family helped Clemmons flee police,” read the headline in Wednesday’s Seattle Times.
These loyal friend and family members knew that Clemmons was already facing charges for raping a twelve-year-old girl, and now they knew he had gunned down four police officers. Which prompts the question: Is there any crime so heinous that it might have cost Clemmons even a fraction of that loyalty? Could he have killed ten police officers? A hundred? Clemmons was provided with transportation, hiding places, clean clothes, and medical attention. More than that, he was provided with compliant silence, which in this case is tantamount to complicity in the crime itself.
There were 16,272 criminal homicides committed in the United States in 2008, but only 63.6 percent of them were “cleared.” That leaves almost 6,000 killers out there among us, added to whom are all those who escaped punishment in years past. Many if not most of these killers have friends and family members who, like Clemmons’s contemptible band of enablers, know of their crimes yet remain silent.
To their great credit, police officers have been rounding up every last person who provided this aid to Clemmons. “We want to hold everybody involved accountable,” said Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer. And bravo for him.
And bravo for Benjamin Kelly, by whose efforts the world will be spared the spectacle of a trial for Maurice Clemmons, at which we would surely have heard from some of these same enablers. They would have regaled us with tales of his unfortunate childhood and his neglect and abuse at the hands of “the system.” And they would have told us he was really a nice guy who just snapped one day, and that he didn’t deserve to be executed because, well, that would be so mean.
Thanks to Benjamin Kelly none of that will happen, because Maurice Clemmons is dead.
And that’s a good thing.
I hope he suffered.