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Four police officers fatally shot near Seattle

Authorities call the attack an ambush on the officers, who were meeting in a coffee shop before their shift. At least one returned fire and may have injured the lone gunman. No one else was hurt.

November 30, 2009|By Kim Murphy
  • The four slain officers, from left: Greg Richards, Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Mark Renninger.
The four slain officers, from left: Greg Richards, Tina Griswold, Ronald… (From the Associated Press )

Four Seattle-area police officers were shot to death Sunday morning in a coffee shop in what officials called a brazen ambush by a lone gunman.

At least one officer apparently fought his way to the coffee shop door and returned fire, possibly wounding the shooter, authorities said.

The shooter is likely to seek medical treatment for a gunshot wound, officials said.

The officers, three men and a woman attached to the Lakewood Police Department, were conducting a routine pre-shift briefing over their laptops at the Forza Coffee Shop in Parkland, Wash., near McChord Air Force Base, about 35 miles south of Seattle.

"It was definitely an ambush, target situation. . . . It was not a robbery," said Pierce County Sheriff's Sgt. Ed Troyer, whose department is investigating the killings. "We have our work cut out for us."

The slain officers, who were in uniform and wearing bulletproof vests, were pronounced dead at the scene. They were identified as Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39, and Officers Ronald Owens, 37; Tina Griswold, 40; and Greg Richards, 42.

Two baristas and several other customers were not injured during the 8:15 a.m. attack. It was not known whether the gunman -- described as a scruffy-looking black man in his mid-20s to mid-30s, 5-feet-7 to 5-10, wearing a black jacket, a gray hooded sweat shirt and blue jeans -- said anything as he opened fire with a handgun and then ran out. His motive was a mystery.

"We know he left the coffee shop on foot, and after that we don't know what happened," Pierce County spokesman Hunter George said.

A possible getaway car "is one of the things we're looking into," George said.

Another Pierce County spokeswoman, Sheri Badger, said a white pickup was found abandoned not far from the scene and was impounded for investigation.

Late Sunday, Troyer said investigators were looking for a person of interest in the shooting: Maurice Clemmons, 37. The Seattle Times reported that Clemmons had a long record of violence, including at least five felony convictions in Arkansas. It said that then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had commuted Clemmons' prison sentence nine years ago, and that Clemmons had been jailed in Washington until six days before the shooting.

The four officers "are known by everybody," Troyer said. "They've all worked in law enforcement in western Washington for their entire careers.

"It appears they were doing paperwork and getting ready for their shift to start -- going over who they would be looking for and what they would be doing during the day," he said.

Earlier, authorities offered a $10,000 reward for information, began searching for surveillance video and sent 100 or more officers and dogs throughout the surrounding area.

"We've got multiple people showing up on their days off. Every person you could think of is out here," Badger said.

Badger said officers took a person of interest into custody shortly after the shootings but had not identified the person as a suspect.

"By the way they're talking, it doesn't look like they're any more than a witness," she said.

Police also took into custody a man who called 911 and claimed to be the shooter. He was ruled out as a suspect but faces charges in connection with the false report, Badger said.

The slayings stunned a community that only recently buried another police officer, who was shot to death in his parked patrol car in Seattle. The suspect in that case was shot during his arrest and remains hospitalized.

Investigators said there had been no threats against the Lakewood Police Department or any of the officers killed Sunday. Lakewood has had its own police force for five years. (Previously it contracted with Pierce County.) It had 102 sworn officers.

"Something very terrible happened today," Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor told reporters. "This is an example of the danger that police officers and deputy sheriffs and state troopers face every day. The person or people who did this not only harmed us, they harmed the good that we can do in the community."

Before the shooting, Pastor had published a statement on the department’s website pointing out the "uncharacteristically large" number of officers in Washington state killed recently in the line of duty. Four were killed in the 18 months before Sunday's shooting.

"Perhaps the most lasting tribute we could make and the best thing that we could do for our own safety and well-being is to find ways to make their work safer and more effective," Pastor wrote.

The previous shootings were unrelated to each other, and authorities have not connected any of them to Sunday's attack.

The most recent of the previous shootings was Oct. 31, when Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton was killed in his parked car and an officer trainee was slightly injured.

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