The state will pay the families of three Lakewood police officers killed by convicted felon Maurice Clemmons $12.5 million to settle claims that the Department of Corrections bungled its handling of Clemmons’ supervision, directly leading to the officers’ deaths.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Frank Cuthbertson approved the settlement Friday.
Terms call for the families of Sgt. Mark Renninger and officer Gregory Richards to receive $5 million each and the family of officer Tina Griswold to receive $2.5 million. A previous settlement was reached between Griswold’s minor son and the state in which the state will pay him $1 million, according to court records.
The survivors of a fourth officer killed in the Nov. 29, 2009, attack at a Parkland coffee shop, Ronald Owens, still have a claim pending against the state. Owens’ family is represented by another law firm.
The families filed claims for damages last year, contending corrections officials should never have allowed Clemmons to transfer his probation from his native Arkansas to Washington and that they had mishandled his supervision once he was here.
“The mistakes they made were so blatant and egregious there really was no defense,” attorney Lincoln Beauregard of the Law Offices of John R. Connelly told The News Tribune. “They really screwed up.”
The Connelly law offices represented the families of Renninger and Richards.
The Corrections Department released a statement about the settlement Friday.
“The brutal act of violence by Maurice Clemmons took the lives of four dedicated police officers and caused unimaginable grief to their families,” the statement reads. “We hope these settlements help the victims’ families, particularly the children, overcome their loss.”
The department also said it’s made changes since the shootings “to improve public safety.”
“With the support from Gov. Chris Gregoire, we successfully convinced the national organization that oversees the interstate compact to change its rules to provide states with more authority to send offenders back if they pose a significant risk to public safety,” the department said.
The department also said it established the “first-ever statewide network that automatically notifies community corrections officers when offenders are released from county jails” and pointed out that state voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that allows judges to deny bail to defendants deemed to pose a significant risk to public safety.
An expert on correctional practices hired by the Connelly law firm said in a report filed in court earlier this month that the Corrections Department violated its own policies when it allowed Clemmons’ half-brother, Rickey Hinton, to act as his “sponsor” when he applied to transfer his probation to Washington.
Hinton is a convicted felon with “a long history of legal problems,” consultant William Stough said.
“Offender Clemmons was in violation of the terms of his supervision just for cavorting with Hinton,” Stough said. “Instead of recognizing this glaring error, the DOC accepted Hinton as Offender Clemmons’ sponsor.”
Other errors on the part of corrections officials included failing to recognize that an arrest warrant issued by Arkansas on Oct. 2, 2009, allowed them to keep Clemmons locked up after his arrest on suspicion of child rape and assaulting a police officer, Stough said.
He cited a copy of the warrant, which stated in part, “the release of said subject to be suspended and order that the subject be retaken and held in custody at any suitable detention facility pending disposition of the charges.”
Former Corrections Department Secretary Eldon Vail and other corrections officials contended in 2009 and later that the warrant was invalid because it had not been entered into a national law enforcement database.
Stough pointed to an internal department email to Vail in early December 2009 that contradicted those public statements.
“You stated in your all staff memo that the warrant issued by Arkansas was only enforceable in Arkansas,” the email from corrections official James Wiggs read. “The chrono entered by the CCO fails to say this, and anyone reading the chrono (which appears to be written verbatim from the warrant) would believe the DOC did in fact have the authority to detain Clemmons regardless of weather (sic) or not the warrant had been entered into the NCIC.”
“The claims on the part of DOC to the contrary concerning the inability to detain Offender Clemmons are manifest untruths,” Stough said.
As it was, Clemmons posted bail Nov. 23, 2009. Six days later, he killed Renninger, Richards, Griswold and Owens.
“I’m proud of my clients for fighting this fight,” Beauregard said Friday. “Hopefully, somebody benefits from these changes in the future.”