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In Seattle, Search Continues For Shooting Suspect

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

To Washington state now, where the search is still on for the man suspected of shooting and killing four police officers in a coffee shop on Sunday.

NPR's Martin Kaste is with us now from Seattle. Martin, you've been following the progress of this manhunt. What's the latest on this?

MARTIN KASTE: Well, I think the latest is frustration. All day long we've been watching as the Seattle police have been chasing from one part of the city to the next following tips and leads, taking them, at one point, to the University of Washington campus, at another point through the city's Chinatown.

Then at one point they sealed off a wooded park land, a park area called Cowen Park. And they were searching that. It's a hard place to search because it had a lot of ravines and nooks and crannies and all of that was based on the fact that someone had seen some blood in one of the restrooms there. And they went after that because they think that the suspect in this case was wounded during the exchange of gunfire with the police officers south of Tacoma.

And so right now they're grasping at anything that fits. They hoped that that would fit. But after a few hours they realized that that also was a dead end. So, all day long just chasing whatever they can find.

BLOCK: And there was also, and (unintelligible) where the police surrounded a house in Seattle, but the suspect, Maurice Clemmons, was not there either.

KASTE: That's right. Late last night, the house sort of in the Leschi neighborhood, it's called here in Seattle, was surrounded by Seattle police, which was a bit of a surprise at first because that's about an hour's drive away from where the shootings took place.

The house apparently belongs to a relative of the suspect. And police basically surrounded it, kept the place cordoned off all night long. Then this morning the SWAT teams moved in and he was not there. Again, adding to the sense of frustration and that's what launched this long day of searching for leads and for some sign of him.

BLOCK: Maurice Clemmons has a long criminal history that reaches back to the state of Arkansas. Can you tell us what you've learned about it?

KASTE: Well, that's still being dug up bit by bit, but he is an ex-convict from Arkansas, though he also has Washington state roots. He served time there for robbery and burglary, but he was convicted as a juvenile and he appealed for clemency in 2000, and he got it from the then-governor, Mike Huckabee. You know, Huckabee's clemency is not what released him onto the streets permanently because he was sent back on a parole violation a little bit later.

Then later he was paroled again, moved to Washington state. And he remained relatively quiet for a while, but then he got into trouble more recently. In fact, he spent a few months in jail on charges of raping a minor and assaulting a law officer. There are actually several felony charges against him right now.

He spent a few months in jail, posted bond just a week ago and a week later, according to police, this is what happened: They have some sense, they say, from talking to some people who know him, that he - after he was released from jail - was intent on killing police.

It's not clear if he was even in a sane mental state. There's some talk about the fact that prosecutors wanted to have him evaluated to see if he was competent to stand trial. At any rate, this is all raising big questions here about why he was paroled in Arkansas, why he was released on bail here. And those questions are just getting more insistent even as he's still just a suspect and still at large.

BLOCK: Martin, thank you very much.

KASTE: You bet.

BLOCK: That was NPR's Martin Kaste speaking to us from Seattle.

He later returned to prison when the - I believe it was in violation of parole terms and later was released early again, moved to Washington State and led a relatively quiet life here until recently. But now he has several felonies pending against him because of an incident involving the allegation of the rape of a minor and an assault on a police officer.

So there's the - he was in fact in jail until a week ago when he posted a bail for a bondsman and was released. And there's a lot of talk here about why that happened, so he has a very long rap sheet. He's been in trouble with the law, and for that reason and the fact that they have some reports that he may have decided he was going to kill policemen recently. He may have said that to an associate. They definitely have him on their list as a potential suspect here.

BLOCK: And it sounds like the community there is already planning a vigil to honor the officers that were killed.

Martin, thank you very much for staying on top of the story for us.

KASTE: You bet.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Martin Kaste. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.
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