Local Cop in Washington State Pleads Guilty to Theft from Slain Officer Fund; Sentenced

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Lakeview Police funeral processionIt takes someone pretty reprehensible to steal from relatives of fallen police officers. Skeeter Manos, an ex-cop himself, is such a person. On June 29, Manos, a former officer with the Lakewood, Wash. police force, was sentenced in Tacoma federal court to 33 months in prison for embezzling about $150,000 from a fund set up for surviving family members of four fellow off-duty officers ambushed and murdered in November 2009. Fired from his police job this February, he pleaded guilty in March. In addition to serving his sentence, Manos will have to pay $112,000 in restitution, plus another $47,000 he stole from his police union, a crime for which he was not prosecuted. The killings vaulted to the top of the national news in part because the killer, while as an Arkansas state inmate, had been granted clemency back in 2000 from then-Republican Governor Mike Huckabee.

Skeeter Timothy Manos, now 35, was a police officer for the City of Lakewood, a Tacoma suburb with a population of nearly 60,000. In addition to arresting crooks, however, he turned out to be one. He stole roughly $150,000 from a special fund established on behalf of spouses and children of four slain fellow officers, spending about $112,000 of that. Manos also embezzled at least $47,000 over a roughly two-year period from the Lakewood Police Independent Guild, the union for which he had served as treasurer. He should consider himself a lucky man. Though prosecutors had sought (and got) the maximum 33-month sentence, U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan had the authority to extend that to 20 years. Not too many people would have grieved had he exercised such discretion. Prosecutor Robert Westinghouse, in a memo to Judge Bryan, wrote that Manos' wrongdoing "ranks at the very top of despicable acts. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine thievery that is any more brazen or heartless." To understand why this case has aroused such emotion, it is necessary to revisit the criminal acts that led to the creation of the fund.

Those acts were the doing of one Maurice Clemmons, a veteran of the revolving prison door. The story could be said to begin in 1989 in his home state of Arkansas. At the time just 17, Clemmons already had amassed a long criminal record. And he was about to add to his resume. One night, he and two accomplices accosted a woman on the parking lot of a Little Rock hotel bar. Pretending to have a gun in his pocket, Clemmons threatened to shoot the woman if she did not hand over her purse. The woman responded, "Well, why don't you just shoot?" Clemmons then sucker-punched her in the head and ran off with the purse. The following year, in 1990, the explosive-tempered Clemmons was sentenced to 108 years in prison for a combined eight felony charges, 35 of those years for the Little Rock robbery and another 60 years for breaking into an Arkansas state trooper's home and stealing things of value, including a gun. He would be eligible for parole in 2015.

In 1999, after almost a decade in prison, Clemmons appealed for executive clemency. He apologized for his crimes, insisting that he came from "a very good Christian family" and that he had turned his life around. In such a light, he maintained, the cumulative sentence was way excessive. Certain victims and prosecutors disagreed, but his appeal was supported by the bipartisan parole board, the trial court judge and, most importantly, Governor Mike Huckabee. On May 3, 2000, a sympathetic Huckabee commuted Clemmons' sentence to 47 years, five months and 19 days, making him eligible for parole that day. Clemmons would be set free that August.

Old habits would die hard. In March 2001, Clemmons was back in action, committing aggravated robbery and theft in Ouachita County, Ark. He was convicted that July and given a 10-year prison sentence. In 2004, while on parole, he moved to the Seattle-Tacoma area, where he had relatives. He was placed under the supervision of the Washington State Department of Corrections and classified as "high risk to reoffend." For the next half-decade, now married, would be on his good behavior. He ran a landscaping and power-washing business from his home. He also bought six houses, five in Washington State and one in Arkansas - and one wonders why we have a foreclosure crisis!       

In May 2009, Clemmons was back to normal - his kind of normal. In separate incidents, he threw rocks at houses, cars and people; told Pierce County (Wash.) jail workers, "I'll kill all you bitches"; and forced a pair of preadolescent girls to sexually fondle him while he was naked. He also frequently referred to himself as Jesus. A psychiatric evaluation determined that Clemmons, despite his disturbing behavior, was competent to stand trial. He and his defense attorney responded they would claim insanity or diminished capacity. The delusional Clemmons also claimed he was being "maliciously persecuted because I'm black." On November 23, 2009 he paid $15,000 for a $190,000 bail bond to secure his release. At a lively Thanksgiving dinner at his aunt's house a few days later, he described in detail how he planned to kill police, school children and other persons. Darcus Allen, a convicted murderer who had done time in Arkansas state prison with Clemmons, was allegedly present.

Clemmons, regrettably, proved a man of his word. On the morning of November 29 he and Mr. Allen were riding together in Clemmons' white pickup truck through Parkland, Wash., an unincorporated area of Pierce County near Lakewood, when they spotted marked police patrol cars on the parking lot of a restaurant, Forza Coffee Co. Clemmons parked his truck. He then walked into the coffee shop and noticed four Lakewood police officers working on their laptop computers, preparing for their shift. This was his big moment. He pulled out a gun and opened fire on the cops, killing all of them. Dead were: Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards. Clemmons, at least, did not go unscathed. He was shot in a struggle with Officer Richards in the restaurant doorway shortly before Richards died of a bullet wound to the head.

The wounded Clemmons escaped with Officer Richards' service revolver. Allen drove him away from the scene. Police shortly received a tip that Clemmons, at first a person of interest and now a prime suspect, was seeking shelter courtesy of friends and family in Seattle. Authorities surrounded the homes of these persons. A false tip in the early hours of November 30 led police to a Seattle house where he apparently was holed up. After a lengthy area lockdown and stakeout, they discovered he wasn't inside. But effort soon would be rewarded. About 2:45 PM the following day, on-duty Seattle Police Officer Benjamin Kelly noticed an idling car on the side of the road with its hood up. He did a quick background check and found that the vehicle was reported as stolen. Seated in his patrol car writing a report, he noticed what appeared to be the driver approaching him. And he recognized him from photos as Maurice Clemmons. Kelly ordered him to stop and put up his hands. In response, Clemmons ran to his disabled vehicle. This was a showdown. Kelly got out of his car and saw Clemmons reaching into his waist area for a gun. Unwilling to meet the same fate as the Lakewood officers, Kelly fired several rounds at Clemmons, hitting him at least twice. At least one of the shots was fatal. There was no doubt Kelly had the right guy. Clemmons' gun was not his; it belonged to Officer Richards. In the aftermath, law enforcement officials arrested several persons for aiding and abetting Clemmons' crimes and escape.

Aside from the end of Maurice Clemmons' life and the end of Mike Huckabee's presidential aspirations, it's hard to think of anything good coming out of this saga. But something did: Lakewood police in short order established a special fund to benefit the spouses and children of their murdered comrades. Over time, the fund generated $3.2 million in donations, of which $300,000 was placed into a separate account for families of future fallen officers. But not all of the money reached its intended destination. This is where Skeeter Manos re-enters the picture.

Initially, Manos seemed a stand-up guy. Only days after the murders he wrote on the Lakewood Police Independent Guild website: "Words alone cannot begin to describe how much donating means not only to the fallen officers' families, but to each and every Lakewood officer...Many times I have had to stop and recompose myself because of the overwhelming support and compassion displayed by the generous community supporting us during this difficult period." This web post proved to be either a brilliant acting job or an uncharacteristic burst of conscience. Just two months later, court documents show, Manos began skimming contributions from the fund by creating phony accounts. All told, he ripped off about $150,000, spending about $112,000 of it on a variety of personal uses ranging from shopping at Home Depot to a vacation in Las Vegas. Manos also fleeced his union out of $47,000 in this manner starting in May 2009 and lasting until sometime in 2011. The department fired him after learning of the allegations and conducting an internal probe.

The children of the slain officers, one happily can report, have received substantial assistance. "The public was so generous, the money that got to where it was supposed to go was a sufficient amount to take care of their needs," remarked Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar this March, the month in which Manos pleaded guilty. Manos' thefts totaled roughly $200,000. While that sum isn't going to deplete the coffers of the officers family memorial fund or the local police guild, it ought to rankle all the same. One thing is for sure: He's not likely to find many sympathizers - or a police job - waiting for him when he gets out of prison.