Ark., Wash. Trade Blame Over Suspect

By: - December 2, 2009 12:00 am

The fatal shooting of four police officers in Washington state this week has set off angry finger-pointing between Washington and Arkansas over why the suspect in the killings – a man convicted of at least five felonies in Arkansas and charged with at least eight more in Washington this year alone – was not behind bars.

Much of the attention so far has focused on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s (R) decision to commute the sentence of the suspect, Maurice Clemmons, nine years ago. Clemmons – who was killed by a Seattle police officer on Tuesday (Dec. 1) after a manhunt – had been serving a 35-year prison term in Arkansas for armed robbery when Huckabee reduced his penalty.

But a story in The Seattle Times paints a much more detailed picture of Washington state criminal justice officials’ efforts to keep Clemmons behind bars earlier this year – and their frustration with their Arkansas counterparts, whom they accuse of stifling those efforts. The discord between the two states “has become so intense … that if the two states were adjacent a ‘border war’ would break out,” The Times reports.

The disagreement centers on whether an arrest warrant issued by Arkansas earlier this year could have been used to keep Clemmons in jail in Washington state. According to The Times , “Arkansas says yes. Washington says no.” Six days before he allegedly killed the police officers, Clemmons walked out of jail in Pierce County, Wash.

Evaluations of what went wrong are likely to dominate the discourse among criminal justice officials in Arkansas and Washington for a long time. What remains to be seen is whether the police officers’ murder – called the worst attack on law enforcement in Washington history – will spark substantial policy changes, in Arkansas, Washington, or both.

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