Witnesses to police killings describe scene

In court: Latanya Clemmons suspected of aiding getaway driver's escape

Staff writerMay 24, 2010 

The trial of Latanya Clemmons began Monday in Pierce County Superior Court, but it was the sins of her brother that took center stage.

Deputy prosecutors Stephen Penner and Kevin McCann called 10 witnesses to the stand to recount Maurice Clemmons’ actions inside a Forza Coffee Co. shop in Parkland on Nov. 29 and the aftermath of his crimes.

Three people inside the shop that sunny Sunday morning testified in gripping detail about seeing Maurice Clemmons walk in, pull a gun and open fire on four Lakewood police officers.

Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39, and officers Tina Griswold, 40; Greg Richards, 42; and Ronald Owens, 37, were killed. Renninger’s widow, Kim, and Richards’ 16-year-old daughter, Jamie, testified about the fear they lived in until Clemmons was shot dead by a Seattle cop two days later.

Deputy Jack Ammann, a 29-year veteran of law enforcement, choked up as he testified about entering the shop minutes after the shooting and seeing the officers dead on the floor.

Other law enforcement officers and forensics experts talked about collecting evidence and the manhunt for Clemmons, 37.

Chief Medical Examiner Sigmund Menchel’s testimony about the gruesome wounds the officers suffered left their relatives in tears.

Prosecutors have charged Latanya Clemmons with four counts of first-degree rendering criminal assistance for alleged helping her brother’s suspected getaway driver in the days after the shooting.

She is the first of seven people charged in connection with the case to go to trial.

Prosecutors hope to convince the jury the defendant victimized law enforcement officers and society at large by allegedly helping Dorcus Allen, who is also known by the first name Darcus.

If they succeed, they can ask for a sentence higher than the standard range: Up to five years in Clemmons’ case.

“Our community lived in fear awaiting the capture of the people responsible, wondering how this could happen, wondering who did this,” McCann said during his opening statement. “For almost 72 hours, the people responsible for the deaths of these four officers remained at large.

“Latanya Clemmons helped them elude police capture during that period of time.”

Clemmons, the 34-year-old mother of a young daughter, has pleaded not guilty.

She admits she drove Allen to a Federal Way motel after the shootings and gave him money to rent a room and for bus fare to Arkansas, but she contends she didn’t know police wanted him at the time.

“She was not attempting at that time to assist Dorcus Allen in hiding from law enforcement,” her lawyer, Helen Whitener, said during her opening statement.

Clemmons intends to put on witnesses who will testify she’d planned for weeks to get Allen out of her life.

Allen, with whom Latanya Clemmons lived, is charged with four counts of aggravated first-degree murder in connection with the slayings. He’s to go to trial next year and might face the death penalty.

Whitener also reminded jurors to concentrate on the case against her client, who did not carry out the shootings at Forza.

“This case is not about the details of the shooting of the four officers at the Forza coffee shop,” she said.

It was hard to tell that Monday.

McCann spent much of his opening statement talking about what happened inside Forza.

New details about the slaying emerged during McCann’s remarks, including that Owens might have struggled with Clemmons and that Richards was killed with his own gun after wounding the killer.

The first witness called by prosecutors was Kim Renninger, who testified sometimes tearfully about learning of her husband’s death and awaiting word of his killer’s capture.

She was relieved, she said, when she learned Seattle police officer Benjamin Kelly shot Maurice Clemmons dead during a confrontation less than 48 hours after the Forza massacre.

Penner asked her why.

“Because I knew nobody else was going to be hurt or killed by his hands,” Renninger said.

Jamie Richards was next. She testified about learning of her father’s death.

“My mom kept calling my dad’s cell phone and when he didn’t answer, we knew it was him,” she testified.

Michelle Chaboya, 20, was working as a barista when the shooting occurred. She testified she had just come on shift and was ringing up officer Richards’ order when “I heard a really loud noise.”

“I looked up and saw a man with a gun,” Chaboya said.

She testified she and colleague Sara Kispert then ran out the back door and drove to a nearby gas station where they asked some men there if they could use their cell phones to call 911.

As they waited for police, she testified, she saw a man resembling the shooter walk toward a car wash across the street. She didn’t see him get into any vehicles – “I looked away; I was terrified” – but seconds later a white pickup sped out of the car wash and headed east on 112th Street South.

Next on the stand was Daniel Jordan, who was in Forza having coffee with his wife, Lola, that morning. Jordan recounted hearing a shot and looking up to see a gunman fire point blank at a police officer.

Jordan said he hustled his wife out the front door, drove about a half a block away and called 911. Penner played a recording of that call for the jury.

“He walked into the business and started shooting at the cops,” a breathless Jordan told the 911 operator. “He didn’t say anything. He just started shooting.”

Ammann then took the stand. He was working traffic patrol several miles away when he heard a call of police officers in trouble over his department radio.

He said he sped to the scene with his patrol car’s lights and sirens activated. He arrived to find other law enforcement on the scene.

The deputy testified he looked in the window and saw the officers on the floor. He couldn’t see the baristas, so he went inside to check.

McCann asked him if he tried to render medical aid to the downed officers.

“No,” Ammann said.

“Why not?” McCann said.

“I’d seen dead people before, and I knew that they were dead,” he said.

Ammann said he then received orders to set up a roadblock at 116th and Steele. It was there, he testified, that a witness approached and told him she’d seen a white pickup speed past her nearby home shortly after the shootings.

Prosecutors contend Allen was at the wheel of that pickup and that Maurice Clemmons was in the passenger seat.

The woman who gave that tip to law enforcement is among those expected to testify today.

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644
adam.lynn@thenewstribune.com
blog.thenewstribune.com/crime

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