More than two years after Maurice Clemmons gunned down four Lakewood police officers, the state has yet to alter a practice that helped Clemmons bail out of jail before the attacks.
Clemmons had won release on a pending child-rape charge by paying $8,000 – about 4 percent – of his $190,000 bail. Six days later, he walked into a Parkland coffee shop and killed Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Greg Richards and Ronald Owens.
Prosecutors and judges expressed surprise that Clemmons had been able to bail out so easily. They had widely believed bailing bonds required a minimum 10 percent payment.
Members of a work group formed in 2010 after the slayings of the Lakewood police officers couldn’t agree on a minimum upfront payment, so it sent a list of other recommendations to the Legislature.
Items on that list became House Bill 2668, which prosecutors criticized for not going far enough. The bill died Friday when the window for debate and passage closed as the Senate was consumed with a Republican budget maneuver.
Rep. Christopher Hurst, chairman of the House public safety committee and a member of the work group, said negotiators will take up the issue again this summer.
“We go back to the drawing board and see what we can get agreement on,” Hurst said.
This was the second year that interested parties failed to reach a consensus on setting a mandatory minimum that defendants must pay a bail bondsman. Prosecutors’ attempt last year to amend legislation to include a floor for bailing bonds effectively killed the task force’s other recommendations to lawmakers, Hurst said.
“They have had a serious problem with playing well with others in the sandbox, so to speak,” he said. “ I think that that cost the rest of the bail reforms an entire year.”
Hurst added that prosecutors were not responsible for the failure of this year’s measure.
Tom McBride with the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys says his group’s position has been consistent throughout: The primary duty of the task force is to set a minimum upfront payment. He said that victims and witnesses deserve a solid answer as to what it takes for a defendant to bail out.
“Right now we say, ‘We don’t really know what that means,’” McBride said.
For bail bondsman Denny Behrend, who represented the Washington State Bail Agents Association on the task force, the answer is simple.
“It’s not rocket science here; you have to set a minimum that a bonding company can charge,” Behrend said.
“I think we know the obstacles that we face. We’ll work our way through this.”
Amy Muth, who represents the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers on the task force, said setting a minimum could keep bail out of reach for poor defendants.
But she doesn’t rule out a compromise, which Hurst said could be packaged with elements of HB 2668 sought by defense attorneys. The bill would have ended the ability of bondsmen to have general power of attorney over those who seek bail – a practice that gives the agent control over a client’s finances and assets.
“If they feel insecure at any point with the bond, they can basically go in and just wipe you out,” Muth said.
Also up for summer discussion is whether to allow defendants to pay in other ways besides cash. Hurst said he believes the work group will reach an agreement.
Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe isn’t so sure. He refers to the work group’s other recommendations as “a little bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
“Right now I have to say, I’m so frustrated and disappointed at a second year of failure, the ideas that I’ve been running in my head is a citizen initiative, or going some other route,” he said.
Hurst said it’s unfortunate the recommendations will be delayed another year, but that the most important component of bail reform was already passed by lawmakers and voters – a constitutional amendment allowing judges to deny bail when a suspect is charged with any crime carrying a possible life sentence and presents a danger to the community.
“That was like the holy grail of bail,” he said.
Alexis Krell: 360-943-7123