Pierce Pioneer

How The Criminal Justice System Improved 10 Years After Lakewood Police Shooting

Then-Gov. Chris Gregoire leaves the podium after her eulogy for the four slain officers. The service, attended by thousands, was Dec. 8, 2009.

In a Parkland coffee shop on Nov. 29, 2009, Maurice Clemmons opened fire at four Lakewood police officers. They had been working on their laptops around 8 a.m. when the shooting occurred. This moment was before their actual work shift started. The four police officers whose lives were cut short were Mark Renninger, Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold, and Greg Richards.

Immediately after the incident, law enforcement went on a huge search for Clemmons. Police officer Benjamin L. Kelly found him hiding in Seattle. Clemmons resisted his arrest, which ultimately led to his death by Officer Kelly.

Clemmons was a violent repeat offender with behavioral issues who was seeking revenge on the criminal justice system. With eight felonies from his teenage years, did the system fail by allowing him to be released into society?

Originally convicted in Arkansas for violent crimes, he was granted permission to move to Washington. His original sentence was 95 years but was lessened by Governor Mike Huckabee to 47 years due to its severity. This made him eligible for parole and he was released in 2000.

Psychologists had deemed Clemmons as dangerous and highly likely to re-offend. At the time, the bail system allowed for defendants to post bail before seeing a judge as long as the bond is approved. This meant they had not looked at his history. Clemmons was released multiple times despite the red flags.

This tragic incident led to certain reforms to Washington State’s Criminal Justice System. Afterward, the Washington Criminal Justice System became more cautious when reducing out-of-state convicts’ sentences. Improvements were made with risk assessment tools to gauge the behaviors of inmates before their release. Many people did not like the idea of criminals from outside of WA potentially committing crimes inside the state.

In memory of the fallen soldiers, the owners of the coffee shop changed their name from Forza Coffee Shop to Blue Steele Coffee Company. The community came together to pay their condolences. A memorial fund was set up to remember the officers. They managed to raise up to $3.2 million by 2012.

In 2009, the Lakewood Police Department also set up a Fallen Officers Food Drive to honor the police officers. The food drive takes place annually near the date the shooting had occurred. The community can donate non-perishable food in support of the Emergency Food Network to the Lakewood Police Department.

The unfortunate incident of losing four beloved Lakewood police officers due to errors in the criminal justice system will not be forgotten. Much effort and reforms to combat the leniency of releasing violent criminals have been addressed since then. According to PoliceOne columnist, Richard Fairburn, police departments cannot always expect the unexpected, but they can train their officers to be more alert in their surroundings.

Unfortunately, Clemmons fell through the cracks because his mental health evaluations were ignored, and he was mistakenly viewed as safe enough to be released from prison. Strict regulations have been put in place to hopefully prevent another incident like at the coffee shop.

Today, Governor Jay Inslee wants to increase public safety by focusing on mental and behavioral issues. Overcrowding populations in prisons has been expensive and inefficient in rehabilitation. He intends to target mental illness and substance abuse as a way to effectively combat overcrowding within correctional facilities. Nearly half of inmates in jails and prisons suffer from a mental illness. By having a system with a stronger focus on treating inmates’ mental health, this reduces pressure from issues inside correctional facilities.

Did the criminal justice system make multiple mistakes in releasing a highly violent re-offender? Yes. It is a hard lesson to be learned. With a stronger focus on mental health and a strict look at inmates’ records before release, there is hope for increased public safety.

Campus safety officer aspires to do bigger things after graduation

Alyssa Wilkins / Staff Photo

Edgar Velasco uses his college experiences to
prepare him for what he’ll be doing next

Some people watch crime shows for fun. Other people imagine how to solve crimes in their sleep. These people often begin to wonder if these shows depict real experiences for law enforcement.

Such was the case for twenty-year-old criminal justice major and aspiring corrections officer, Edgar Velasco. After graduating with his associate’s degree this spring and transferring to the University of Washington for his Bachelor’s degree, he will get to find out.

Velasco became intrigued by law entertainment platforms because of the debates and cases of diverse backgrounds. He was drawn in by two contrasting reality shows. One portrayed inmates who are aggressive and intimidating, whereas the other, where guards have a great rapport with inmates.

His fascination with discovering the truths behind these stories inspired him to pursue a career in criminal justice. Additionally, he has a great curiosity in how laws are formed and how they affect his community. This interest will serve him well as a police officer – something he can see himself doing in the future.  

He had originally wanted to go to South Puget Sound because he lived in Lacey. However, the college didn’t have a criminal justice program, and that is what brought him to Pierce.

Alyssa Wilkins / Staff Photo

As part of his curriculum studies, he was able to take a tour of a local corrections facility.  Because of that experience, he started looking at being a corrections officer as a stepping stone to becoming a police officer. 

Velasco works as a safety guard at Pierce, which gives him first-hand experience. The position has helped him overcome his concerns about getting his foot through the door in the criminal justice field. He questioned himself to see if he was mentally prepared for this career. However, with the security job, “It’s definitely given me more confidence about the future,” he said.

As a first-generation college student, he also felt a lot of pressure. One quarter before he was scheduled to graduate, Velasco felt the impulse to drop out because he was mentally drowning. However, he overcame the desire and will be graduating this June. He finds pride in doing this for his family. By the time the quarter ended, he found his personal pride has turned into a driven force for himself.

He put leisurely activities on the backburner in order to solely focus on his college and future career. He has put all his time and energy on school and working his security job which will help him pursue his future career path. “I am here for a purpose,” he said. That purpose placed him on the Dean’s list last quarter.

He hopes to make both his parents and grandparents proud while also doing it for himself. Velasco asked himself, “Do you want to have a successful life? That’s what I want, so I keep pushing through.”

Criminal Justice All Day Advising and Recruitment


Teachers, professionals and recruiters flocked to Pierce for an all day event in the front lobby. Students were able to receive one-on-one time learning about the field of Criminal Justice and exploring the type of career options available to them.

Click on the photos for info.

Created with flickr slideshow.

Criminal Justice Club

Tamara Kelly
Staff Writer

Dental impressions, finger prints and DNA samples where the topic of conversation, for the Lakewood community and students, on Wednesday, February 13, while they gathered in the front entry near the welcome center.

The Justice Club combined with the Lakewood police department hosted a community event providing children’s identification kits for parents in the case of an emergency. The Club’s sense of community is its top priorities.

“It [the club] ties the school to the community,” said Event Coordinator Nacquata Bryson. She feels that with the help of the club members and leaders they can make a difference by every small and large effort they exercise towards building a stronger community.

Earlier in the school year the club collected donations for their toy drive in for the families of domestic violence. The intent to help give children who have been uprooted and living in local shelters.

Melissa Haffly said, “This is a wonderful opportunity for students to get involved on campus and in the community.”

Many of the students who are involved in the club are also working towards their degree in Criminal Justice, but the club is not only limited to Criminal Justice students, it’s for all Pierce students who want to make a difference by serving their community.

Bryson said, “Being a victim’s advocate is a good gateway into doing more for our community.” She also believes it’s a good way to build stronger character all around, and empower students to be better citizens.

For more information on the Criminal Justice Club or to become a member contact Teresa Carlo at 253-964-6357 or email her at [email protected] .  Criminal Justice Club

Justice is now is session

Rebecca Smith
Staff Writer 

When someone talks of criminal justice, they mean more than just a shiny gold badge, a fancy uniform, and being able to wield a gun.  They’re talking about the sacrifices you make and the risks you take to protect those in your community.

Bobi Foster-Grahler, law enforcement advocate and instructor of the Criminal Justice program offers her students an umbrella of degrees and certificate programs that all provide a rich experience in the field of criminal justice.

“One thing I enjoy about being a teacher is the moment when I see students who first walk into my class. They don’t necessarily have a voice, yet when they graduate I can see the progress they have developed and the way they can stand up for one another. That’s one of those big “aha!” moments for me.”
The program offers a general AA Associates in Criminal Justice, in which the program lasts about an intensive 8 quarters in length. There is also the DTA Transferable degree in Criminal Justice if the student wishes to transfer to a university later in the course. Amongst the degree programs, Grahler offers multiple certificate programs such as the Law Enforcement Explorer certificate (for  those under 21 years of age who would like to get a hands-on taste of what it’s like to be a Cadet); the Forensic Technician certificate, for those undergoing CSI training, and a certificate program for the Reserve Officers and Commissioned Officers.

Her most popular certificate program offered at Pierce is the Basic Law Enforcement certificate, a 2 quarter course which also offers a 180 hour internship. A respectable program that prepares the students who are going into the field as a Corrections Officer.   As an instructor, Grahler spends time throughout the years with many students who come and go; yet she receives gratification when she sees her students become confident and comfortable standing up for one another; and in those who are ready to don the uniform and protect our families.

Though the program may be intense, those who are passionate about providing justice to our community will also receive a great amount of satisfaction in the long run.
The Criminal Justice Program and the Pioneer would also like to remind the students that November 29th, is the upcoming memorial in remembrance of the Lakewood 4.
Please give a moment to honor those four who sacrificed so much for our community by wearing a dark blue ribbon throughout the month of November. We will never forget.

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