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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Seattle, Washington 11/30/2009

On routine patrol Seattle officer Benjamin Kelly found himself face to face with the most wanted man in the Northwest.

August 19, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Photo: Seattle PD.
Photo: Seattle PD.

On Saturday Nov. 29, 2009, Seattle patrol officer Benjamin Kelly learned about the murders of four Lakewood, Wash., officers via messages left on his cell phone while he slept in after working night shift. From the time he got up, Kelly kept tabs on the investigation's progress and by nightfall had learned that one Maurice Clemmons was the prime suspect.

Later that evening, Clemmons' aunt showed up at a Seattle precinct to announce that her nephew was at her house. An unmarked unit responded in time to see a passenger exit a car parked in front of the aunt's house. After being detained by the undercover unit, the vehicle's driver confirmed that she had just dropped off Maurice Clemmons at the house.

The speed with which a containment of the house was effected led many on scene to believe that Clemmons had been cornered inside. But when SWAT made entry 13 hours later, Clemmons was nowhere to be found.

Any disappointment at having failed to corral Clemmons was at least tempered by the realization that the man was in all probability still within their jurisdiction. Given the manpower that had been committed to the search, the smart money was that it'd be only a matter of time before he popped back on their radar.

Seattle officers spent the next two shifts pinballing back and forth throughout their patrol area in response to Clemmons sightings. More profitable had been intelligence gleaned from the containment operation the night before.

The Briefing

When Kelly returned to work on November 30, a hostage negotiations team sergeant who'd participated in the operation the previous night shared descriptions and photos of Clemmons during briefing. The precinct captain was also present at the roll call, stressing officer safety and encouraging troops to partner up with one another. Staring at a photo of Clemmons that clearly showed a distinctive mole on the suspect's face, Kelly recognized that the odds were pretty good that someone in the room was likely to run across the assassin.

The officers exited the briefing room and entered the real world where the usual calls—and Clemmons—waited.

The shift started quietly enough, so much so that the prospect of a confrontation with Clemmons had retreated to the back of Kelly's mind by the time midnight rolled around. But over the course of the next two hours a total of three cars had been reported stolen in Kelly's sector.

Some would euphemistically characterize Kelly's sector as a "working class neighborhood." By any name, it had more than its fair share of narcotics activity, prostitution, and gang problems. Still, it was unusual for that many cars to be reported stolen at that time of night. For one, sectors tended to be relatively small; for another, people were usually asleep at that hour and didn't notice that their cars were stolen until morning. Armed with the plates and vehicle descriptions, Kelly decided to cruise the back streets in hopes that he'd find one ditched on the side of the road.

He was driving westbound on South Kenyon Street when he passed a pedestrian, also westbound. The man was shuffling along, hands in the pockets of his nylon pants and his head down, concealed beneath a gray hooded sweatshirt pulled over it.

It was a good bet that anybody out and about at that time was probably up to no good. Kelly noted the man's presence and drove on. Within a block and a half, he saw a silver Acura parked on the north side of the street, with its hood up and engine running.

Kelly had actually cruised by the car before recognizing it as one of the three reported stolens. As he backed his patrol vehicle behind the Acura, he flicked on a side light. There was no one inside the vehicle.

Keying his mic, Kelly advised area units that he'd found one of the stolen vehicles unoccupied. Glancing in his rear view mirror, he spotted the pedestrian he'd passed moments earlier. The man was starting to cross to the opposite side of the street.

Wide Berth

What's this guy up to?

Kelly's initial speculation was that the man probably had a warrant and was giving officers a wide berth to avoid contact. But such efforts were more common than they were successful, and tonight was no exception. Kelly continued to keep an eye on the guy.

Kelly's vigil paid off-but in an unexpected manner.

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