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Colorado authorities seeks clues, motive in slaying of prisons chief

March 20, 2013|By Michael Muskal

Colorado officials Wednesday searched for clues and a motive to explain why the executive director of the state Department of Corrections was shot and killed when he answered the front door of his house, officials said.

Tom Clements, 58, was shot around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at his home in Monument, Colo., according to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.

"There is no evidence of a home invasion," spokesman Lt. Jeff Kramer said in televised interviews. "Whether he was specifically targeted or this was random, we don't know."

There was immediate speculation that the shooting could be related to Clements’s work in the state prison system or to tougher gun control legislation signed on Wednesday by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Officials, however, said it was too soon to know the motive for the killing.

"We know of his position and realize that it is a possible motive for a crime such as this," Kramer said. "It's a quick, rapidly evolving investigation. We've been on scene through the night."

At a morning news conference, a mournful Hickenlooper offered condolences with “leaden hearts and insufficient words...Our thoughts and prayers are with the wife and daughters.”

Hickenlooper praised Clements.

“He was a dedicated, committed, funny, caring expert at corrections,” the governor said. “He had a sense of humor that all of us, you almost can’t describe it. He would let fly with a zinger, so unpredictable and so astute. He was a great friend to me and all of us.

Hickenlooper said Clements had worked to make inmates better prepared for their return to society, establishing programs that were successful in keeping inmates from returning to prison.

The governor refused to go into details about the investigation, but ruled out a campaign against top Colorado cabinet officials.

“This is an active investigation,” he said. “we don’t know enough to answer that type of question,” he replied to several queries by reporters. “Whether it is an act of retaliation, we don’t know about it,” Hickenlooper said.

 “Tom Clements dedicated his life to being a public servant, to making our state a better place and he is going to be deeply, deeply missed,” said the governor, who added he was planning on going to Monument to meet with Clements’s family after he signed the gun control bill.

According to the sheriff’s office, the only clue was a report of a dark-colored “boxy” car seen by a witness about the same time as the shooting in Monument, north of Colorado Springs. The vehicle’s engine was running and a witness saw one person drive off.

Clements lived in a wooded neighborhood of two-story houses on two-acre lots in an area known as the Black Forest for its wooded growth. Long driveways connect the homes set back in the hills.

A family member called 911 to report the shooting, an official told reporters, and authorities responded. Search dogs were used to comb through the wooded areas.

Hickenlooper appointed Clements to the post in 2011 after he served for more than three decades in the Missouri Department of Corrections. The department operates 20 adult prisons and a juvenile detention system.

Clements generally kept a low profile, but his killing comes a week after he denied a Saudi national prisoner's well-publicized request to be sent to his home country to serve out his sentence. Homaidan Turki was convicted of sexually assaulting a housekeeper.

Hickenlooper ordered flags lowered to half-staff at public buildings until the day after Clements' funeral. Arrangements are pending.

Clements is survived by his wife, Lisa, and two daughters, Rachel and Sara. Hickenlooper asked the public to respect their privacy.

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michael.muskal@latimes.com

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