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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.

Comments (5)

Displaying 1 - 5 of 5

Morning Eagle @ 8/22/2011 7:45 PM

Good write up on "the rest of the story" of the aftermath of an incident that sent shock waves reverberating through the whole U.S. law enforcement world and perhaps Canadian too since it was entirely feasible clemmons might have tried to cross the border. Excellent job Officer Kelly and as for those at the time that implied that you shot him down for revenge when you actually didn’t have to, screw 'em because they don't have a clue about what it is like to come face to face on a cold dark street with a known cold blooded murderer.

John Youngs @ 8/27/2011 11:07 AM

I'm extremely glad that someone like Off. Kelly was there with the skills needed to take down an incredibly viscious killer like Clemmons. That said, however, my main concern, as a civilian, is what I see as the ever-increasing "militarization" of police forces and agencies, mostly, I assume, as a direct response to scenarios such as this. I'm certainly not advocating a return t o the "old days of the 'Barney Fife' type of cop; but presenting yourself physically to the public as a "jack-booted storm trooper" reminisent of "Darth Vader" serves to undermine the "civic view" or relationship cops and civilians used to have with one another. Wrap-around sun glasses, etc; while being handy for glare, etc; complete this attire. Again, while perhaps being handy, the effect those items have on the public tends, in the long run, to be rather negative and serves only to drive a deeper "wedge" between cops and the public's perception of "officer friendly". You look at cops nowadays, and many of them immediately adopt a stance that tends to suggest a "What the hell are YOU looking at?!" attitude. Be wary, sure thing. But just as cops tell us "We can't do the job without you - the civilians...", just as necessary, inspite of tragic stories such as this, is the attitude that "we ARE here to help you - the civilian population. Many (recent) interactions with local cops tend to (unfortuantely) enforce this attitude. I'm wondering how many scenarios - even ones less tragic than this one - could've been prevented, indirectly, as a result of a less-militaristic "stance" or attitude demonstrated on the part of local law enforcement officers. Sounds silly, perhaps, but this whole "Them vs. us" attitude is so thick, nowadays, that you could cut it with a knife. Food for thought.

Wofski @ 8/31/2011 6:58 PM

Great job Ofc. Kelly.

Jack Trieber @ 9/6/2011 7:09 AM

"John Youngs", your comment is completely incongruous with the story presented and should, in my opinion, be removed. The men and women who put their neck on the line don't need a lecture and wagging finger from somebody who has their feelings hurt from the last time they gave out a ticket. This is a story about a dangerous murderer being killed. When you've pounded the pavement wearing the gear for even a week, hell even a day, then come back and talk. That this situation "could have been prevented" by a "less militaristic stance" is probably one of the dumbest things I've heard in my entire life. Your post isn't "food for thought" at all.

cdtdat @ 9/11/2011 9:46 PM

"John Youngs" I agree with Trieber. I've been an Officer here in western Washington for three years after spending 10 years with another police department in Southern Nevada. Your statement is very ignorant and one of the reasons why it is so difficult to police in this state, particularly in "The People's Republic of" King County. You and your type feel so entitled up here that I hate to see what will happen when all hell breaks loose (i.e. such as the increasing presence of out of state gang that people like you, certain city governments, the state supreme court justices and the media seem to be ignoring and/or pushing under the rug). Seriously, you really need to get a clue. All this so call "militaristic "stance" or attitude demonstrated on the part of local law enforcement officers" is BS and just an excuse for the local liberals (or what ever you want to call yourselves) to make our jobs harder then it already is. So when or if you decide to suite up and step in our shoes (even in a citizen's academy), I will respect you more. Until then, I would work on your perception of LEO's if I were you...because if you come at us with this little finger wagging, you will get your feelings hurt. If you come at us with a desire to learn about our job, our mission, what we see and experience then you will learn a great deal....and perhaps appreciate us just a tad bit more. Just food for thought sir.

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