SEATTLE — A Seattle policeman testified Monday that in scant seconds and at barely more than arm's length, he recognized the man who had killed four police officers and sworn to do the same to anyone who tried to arrest him.
In a calm, even voice, Officer Benjamin L. Kelly told a six-member inquest jury about how he was alone in his patrol car when Maurice Clemmons approached him on a dark south Seattle street early on Dec. 1. The confrontation ended with Kelly killing the man who had been sought in a massive manhunt since ambushing the Lakewood officers two days earlier at a coffee shop south of Tacoma.
"I thought I could be dead in a matter of seconds," said Kelly, 39, in his first public account of Clemmons' death.
He said he and his fellow officers were warned that Maurice Clemmons was likely in the Seattle area, was armed and wounded, and had told relatives and acquaintances he would kill more police and would not be taken alive.
Kelly, a five-year Seattle police veteran, testified that he stopped to check on a stolen vehicle that had been left with its engine running and hood up. As he radioed in a report, a man in a hooded sweat shirt walked into the street behind the squad car and headed toward its driver's side.
Kelly said he stepped out of the squad car as the man approached and quickly recognized Clemmons by his size and a prominent mole on his cheek.
"He gave me an 'Oh, crap' look," Kelly said. He added: "The first thing that came into my mind is 'OK, I'm kind of in trouble here, and I better do something.'"
When Clemmons was about 4 feet away, Kelly pulled out his service pistol and yelled at the man to show his hands. But Clemmons turned from him and reached for his waist, so Kelly said he fired seven shots, wounding Clemmons.
Clemmons then ran to a high hedge at a nearby house. Kelly said he tried three times to radio for help but his calls wouldn't go through. He then grabbed his shotgun from the squad car and started looking for where Clemmons might be hiding.
"I knew that my initial rounds had hit him, and he was hit critically," Kelly said.
Still, "I thought, 'I'm alone out here on the street, and I don't know where he is. But he knows where I am.'"
On the fourth try, his call went through, and backup patrol cars arrived within minutes.
After cautiously approaching the hedge, officers found Clemmons face-down but moving, badly wounded by Kelly's gunfire. Officer Daina Boggs, who helped arrest Clemmons, said she found in his sweat shirt pocket a Glock Model 22 service pistol that had been taken from one of the dead Lakewood officers. Clemmons died a short time later.
Fact-finding inquests are standard in King County in fatal police shootings. If jurors find the deadly force was unnecessary, the findings will be given to the county prosecutor, who will determine whether to file charges. The main question is whether the officer feared for his life when he shot Clemmons.
Kelly was placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting and returned to duty Jan. 1.
King County District Judge Arthur Chapman said he expects the inquest to last one more day.
According to police, on Nov. 29, three Lakewood officers and a sergeant were sitting in a strip-mall coffee shop preparing for a Sunday shift when Clemmons, a felon with a long record in Arkansas and Washington, walked in the door and started shooting. All four law officers died, but one of them first managed to put a struggle, firing a shot that struck Clemmons in the gut.
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Investigators say Clemmons survived two days on the run with help from friends and relatives who provided him with transportation and shelter and patched his bullet wound with cotton balls and duct tape.