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Families of Slain WA Officers Plead for Changes

Families of Slain WA Officers Plead for Changes

From left: Sgt. Mark Renninger, Officer Ronald Owens, Officer Tina Griswold, Officer Greg Richards

The AP via YellowBrix

January 19, 2010

OLYMPIA, Wash. — In emotional testimony Monday night, family members of four slain Lakewood police officers asked lawmakers to make changes to a system they say failed their loved ones.

Lakewood police Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards were shot to death in November at a coffee shop before the start of their Sunday morning shift. The man accused of killing them, Maurice Clemmons, was fatally shot by a Seattle police officer two days later.

“Our families should not be going through this tragedy,” said Owens’ sister, Rhonda LeFrancois, who was wearing a yellow shirt that read “Make a Difference!” – a note from her brother that she said she found after his death.

“I beg of you, make a difference, just as our loved ones made a difference each and every day they were here protecting us,” LeFrancois told the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee at a special hearing that was scheduled in the weeks after the shootings.

LeFrancois and other family members asked committee members to adopt changes recently suggested by law enforcement groups, including constitutional amendments that would give judges more leeway to deny bail. The panel will hold a public hearing on some of those measures Tuesday morning.

The lawmaker holding the hearing, Democratic Rep. Chris Hurst of Enumclaw, says he wants to know why Clemmons was free despite a criminal history in both Washington and Arkansas.

“All killings of law enforcement officers are horrific and terrible to us,” said Hurst, a retired police officer. “The reason we’re focusing on the Clemmons case is because I’m starting from one single premise, that Maurice Clemmons should not have been out of custody and had an opportunity to do this.”

Hurst said he wanted to give lawmakers a chance to hear from prosecutors, law enforcement representatives and others so they’d have a better understanding of the case while considering legislation.

“This is not a time for us to have a knee-jerk response and simply pass a lot of bills if they won’t actually help,” Hurst said at the beginning of the three-hour hearing. “The intent is to move pieces of legislation that will actually make a difference.”

After the shootings, Gregoire called on law-enforcement groups to compile a list of potential changes to state law, policy or the state constitution. Last week, Gregoire and the officer groups released a list of potential changes, including better communication between law enforcement on jail bookings and releases, a review of the bail bonds system, and enhanced benefits for survivors of officers who die in the line of duty.

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