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History > 2009 > USA > Police (I)



Sandy Drain,

whose niece has been missing for two years,

said the police in Cleveland

initially refused to investigate the case.

Ken Blaze for The New York Times

After Gruesome Find, Anger at Cleveland Police

















Tacoma Suspect

Is Killed by Police Officer


December 2, 2009
The New York Times


SEATTLE — A man suspected of fatally shooting four uniformed police officers was shot and killed early Tuesday by a Seattle police officer who chanced upon him during a routine patrol.

The death of the suspect, Maurice Clemmons, 37, capped a huge manhunt that had fanned out through Seattle over the last two days as scores of police chased the trail of the suspect. Police officials said Mr. Clemmons had been carrying a gun that had belonged to one of the four officers, who were killed at a coffee shop near Tacoma Sunday morning.

In an interview, the city’s interim police chief, John Diaz, said a Seattle officer had been patrolling a working-class neighborhood in south Seattle around 2:45 a.m. when he came across an empty car on the street, its engine idling and its hood raised. The officer called in a report on the vehicle, which turned out to be stolen. He was sitting in his patrol cruiser, writing up paperwork, when he saw Mr. Clemmons approaching from behind.

The officer, a seven-year veteran, recognized Mr. Clemmons “immediately,” Mr. Diaz said, and noticed that the suspect was trying to pull something from one of his pockets. He ordered Mr. Clemmons to put his hands up, but he refused and began to move away from the officer. The officer shot at least twice, Mr. Diaz said. Mr. Clemmons was pronounced dead at the scene.

“It’s not the way we wanted it to end,” Mr. Diaz said.

The name of the officer who shot Mr. Clemmons was not released; he will be placed on administrative leave until a hearing on the use of force is held. Such a hearing is customary in this kind of situation, Mr. Diaz said, adding that it appeared that the officer had acted appropriately.

“He was in fear of his life,” Mr. Diaz said. “He was telling him, ‘Put your hands up,’ and he wasn’t doing it.”

Mr. Clemmons had a lengthy criminal history, including pending felony charges of raping a 12-year-old relative and assaulting police officers. He was released on bail last week.

The police said Mr. Clemmons had already been shot in the abdomen by one of the four officers who were killed Sunday morning, but he continued to elude the authorities on Monday. Throughout the day, the police pursued a confusing range of tips that he had been seen in several places across Seattle, from a park in the Beacon Hill neighborhood to the University of Washington.

Officials posted a bulletin on Twitter saying the suspect could be in the university district and urging students to be alert. Later in the day, the police said they were looking for a green 1997 Mazda Millenia and were monitoring the state’s borders, but that search was soon called off.

The police offered a reward of $125,000 for information leading to Mr. Clemmons’s capture.

Earlier Monday, after a tip from Pierce County investigators, Seattle police officials believed that they had cornered Mr. Clemmons in a house in the city’s Leschi neighborhood. After officers surrounded the house, flooded it with spotlights and sent a robot to approach it, SWAT teams entered, only to find that he was not there, said Detective Mark Jamieson, a spokesman for the Seattle Police Department.

“We have more concrete evidence that the suspect was at that location,” Detective Jamieson said. “We don’t know if he was in the house, but he was seen at that location.”

The four officers were killed Sunday morning at a coffee shop in Lakewood as they worked on laptops preparing for a patrol shift. Officials have said there was evidence that one of them chased the gunman outside as he fled and fired shots, striking the suspect before dying of gunshot wounds.

In 2000, Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas granted clemency to Mr. Clemmons after he had served 11 years of a 95-year sentence for robbery and burglary convictions on charges prosecuted when he was 17. That history continued to play a role in his prosecution in Washington this year, Pierce County prosecutors said.

After Mr. Clemmons was arrested in Pierce County in May on charges of assaulting officers who were investigating claims that he had broken neighbors’ windows with rocks, Arkansas issued a warrant for his arrest for violating conditions of his parole, said Stephen Penner, a deputy prosecuting attorney in Pierce County.

Mr. Clemmons was initially held without bail on the Arkansas warrant. In July, an Arkansas corrections official sent a letter revoking the hold and saying “appropriate action will be taken once the pending charges have been adjudicated.”

Without the hold from Arkansas, Mr. Penner said, the State Constitution allowed Mr. Clemmons the right to bail while the rape and assault charges were pending. He was released on $190,000 bail on Nov. 23, Mr. Penner said.

A spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Community Correction said officials there issued a second warrant for Mr. Clemmons in October, but it was not immediately clear whether that warrant had the power to prevent his release.

The officers who were killed were Tina Griswold, 40; Ronald Owens, 37; Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39; and Greg Richards, 42. All left behind children and families, and they were mourned at makeshift memorials at the Lakewood Police Department, at a church vigil in Tacoma and on various Web sites, including Facebook.

“We’re a young department,” Chief Bret Farrar said at a news conference on Monday. “We put this department together in 2004. The four we lost yesterday were original members of the department. They were good people, they were great officers, and we will all miss them very much.”

Lisa Price, who helped hire Officer Richards in his previous job at the Kent Police Department, said he turned to policing in 2001 at a later age than many new officers, giving him “a good mix of maturity and insight.” She said he took the Lakewood job because it seemed to hold more stability, as Kent was considering layoffs.

Brian D. Wurts, president of the Lakewood Police Independent Guild, described Officer Owens on the guild’s Web site as “the laid-back, dirt-bike-riding, surfer-hair-having cop you would always want at a party or with you on any call. Though he had a laid-back perspective, he was sharp and an extremely dedicated and hard worker.”

Sergeant Renninger served in the Army and was based at nearby Fort Lewis before becoming a police officer in the 1990s in Tukwila, a Seattle suburb. He grew up in Pennsylvania, where his brother, Matt, is also a police officer. On a Facebook page created in his honor, a former colleague in Tukwila recalled “that thick, Philly-type accent of his.”

On the guild Web site, Mr. Wurts said Officer Griswold had two children “and a husband who loves her deeply.” He recalled her as a spirited conservative who loved to talk politics and, if challenged, “would tell you where you could go.”

    Tacoma Suspect Is Killed by Police Officer, NYT, 2.12.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/02/us/02tacoma.html






Official: 4 Police Officers Shot Dead in Wash.


November 29, 2009
Filed at 1:31 p.m. ET
The New York Times


TACOMA, Wash. (AP) -- Four police officers were shot and killed Sunday morning in what authorities called a targeted ambush at a coffee house in Washington state, a sheriff's official said.

Officials at the scene told The News Tribune in Tacoma two gunmen burst into the Forza Coffee Co. and shot the four uniformed officers as they were working on their laptop computers, then fled the scene.

Pierce County Sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said investigators believe the officers were targeted, and it was not a robbery.

Troyer tells the newspaper ''it was just a flat out ambush.''

He could not immediately say what agency the officers were from. Police were searching for two suspect and interviewing witnesses. The coffee shop is near McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, about 35 miles south of Seattle.

''We hopefully will have answers, but there is nothing more we can tell you,'' Troyer told KING-TV. ''That's as cold-hearted as it is.''

Roads were blocked around the attack. A witness driving past told the newspaper he saw an officer on the ground just after the shootings.

Last month, Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton was shot and killed Halloween night as he was sitting in a cruiser with trainee Britt Sweeney. Sweeney was grazed in the neck.

Christopher Monfort, 41, of suburban Tukwila, was charged in the shooting. Days after the shooting, Seattle detectives attempted to question Monfort at his residence. Police say that Monfort then ran from the detectives and tried to use a gun. The detective shot him.

Authorities also linked Monfort to the October firebombing of four police vehicles, with prosecutors saying Monfort waged a ''one-man war'' against law enforcement.

Monfort remained hospitalized.

    Official: 4 Police Officers Shot Dead in Wash., NYT, 29.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/11/29/us/AP-US-Officers-Shot.html






After Gruesome Find, Anger at Cleveland Police


November 6, 2009
The New York Times


CLEVELAND — After the third police station in a row refused to take a missing-person report about her niece two years ago, Sandy Drain took matters into her own hands.

She organized search parties to comb abandoned houses. She got neighborhood children to help post fliers on light poles. She recruited a national advocacy group for missing persons to host a rally. She even hired a psychic to look for clues in her niece’s apartment.

“It was pretty obvious the police weren’t going to help us,” said Ms. Drain, 65, who added that the police began seriously investigating the case of her niece, Gloria Walker, only after Ms. Drain’s initial efforts prompted the news media to begin asking questions.

“If you’re from this neighborhood, you come to expect that,” Ms. Drain said.

Her desperation and anger have grown here on Cleveland’s gritty east side since the police last week arrested Anthony Sowell, a convicted sex offender who has been charged with multiple counts of murder after 11 decomposing bodies were discovered in his house and backyard.

Despite being accustomed to drugs and violence, residents said they were shocked by the case’s gruesomeness and appalled that a man convicted of attempted rape had apparently been able to hide such heinous crimes, even as the authorities were regularly checking up on him.

Community activists added that in recent years they had received dozens of reports from residents in this largely poor and black neighborhood who told of encountering similar frustrations in getting the police to investigate cases of missing adults.

“They belittled it and made jokes,” said Barbara Carmichael about her repeated and failed efforts to file a missing-person report about her daughter Tonia, whose body was the first of the 11 found in Mr. Sowell’s house to be identified this week. “They told me to wait a while because she would return once all the drugs were gone.”

Law enforcement officials insist, however, that they had done everything they could.

“We take these cases seriously,” said Lt. Thomas Stacho, a spokesman for the Cleveland Police Department, who added that Ms. Carmichael’s case had occurred out of Cleveland’s jurisdiction.

In the case of Ms. Drain’s niece, “certainly our records show that we spent a significant amount of time investigating the disappearance,” Lieutenant Stacho said, including checking leads, looking up license plates and obtaining Ms. Walker’s dental records.

Experts on crime also point out that unlike cases involving missing children, where the police typically react quickly, cases involving missing adults are more complicated. With adults, the police tend to investigate only when there is clear evidence of foul play, rather than just signs of a family feud or the disappearance of a drug addict who, perhaps, has chosen to remain out of touch while on a binge.

Many of the women from the neighborhood who were reported missing were known drug users, according to neighbors and the police.

But as a crowd gathered to stare at the cream-colored duplex where Mr. Sowell lived — one of the better-maintained homes in a neighborhood filled with abandoned houses — many people said it should not matter whether a person was a drug user for the police to investigate.

Many also wondered aloud whether they knew anyone among the dead.

“She has been missing since April,” Fawcett Bess, owner of the pizza shop across the street from Mr. Sowell’s house, said of a former girlfriend of Mr. Sowell. “But nobody really paid any attention because she was into the dope. It’s crazy.”

“I just feel sad,” Mr. Bess added. “All these girls missing, and nobody did anything.”

In 2005, Mr. Sowell moved back into this neighborhood of crumbling streets and vacant two-story walk-ups interspersed with a few tidy homes.

He had spent the previous 15 years in state prison for luring a 21-year-old woman into his home, then choking and raping her, according to the county prosecutor’s office. Mr. Sowell pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted rape. (Earlier reports on the county court’s Web site that he had been convicted of rape were incorrect.)

On the corner of Imperial Avenue and East 123rd Street, just feet from Mr. Sowell’s house, many people said Thursday that the only thing they remembered about the place was the stench.

“People thought the stink was me,” said Ray Cash, the owner of Ray’s Sausage, a meat-processing plant next to Mr. Sowell’s house.

To eliminate the smell, Mr. Cash said he had the plant’s gutters cleaned, drain pipes flushed and sewage drain cleaned with bleach. It made no difference.

The smell was so bad, Mr. Cash said, that his workers preferred the pungent air inside the meat factory to the foul odor outside, so much so that they kept the windows shut, even in the summer heat.

Last Thursday, the police finally discovered the cause of the smell. While serving a search warrant on Mr. Sowell’s house in response to an accusation of rape, the police found two bodies. By Wednesday, the count had risen to 11.

Councilman Zack Reed, who represents the neighborhood, said the smell should have been the first clue to the authorities that something was awry.

“Clearly, something could have been done differently,” Mr. Reed said, adding that he did not understand why the police and sheriff’s officers who had visited Mr. Sowell’s home weeks ago did not investigate the smell further.

On Sept. 22, two county sheriff’s deputies appeared at Mr. Sowell’s door to make sure he was obeying the reporting requirements imposed on sex offenders.

Hours later, according to a police report, Mr. Sowell tried to drag a woman into his house to rape her.

Experts say that while local law enforcement is required to track sex offenders when they are released from prison, the authorities are usually given limited legal leeway or extra resources to do this.

“The system that we have to do monitoring and supervision follow-up once they return to the community is just overwhelmed,” said Ernie Allen of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.Mary Mason rejected the notion that the police had done all they could to find her sister, Michelle Mason, after she disappeared on Oct. 8, 2008. Mr. Sowell was not caught sooner, she said, because the police ignored complaints from residents about missing persons, much as they ignored the stench from Mr. Sowell’s house.

“The police are still in the mindset that some people don’t matter,” said Ms. Mason, adding that while her sister had a police record involving drug use, she had stopped using drugs 10 years ago. “Shouldn’t the police have noticed that we had so many black women missing before this?”

Police logs show that officers worked virtually every day for months trying to find Michelle Mason, Lieutenant Stacho said. Similar steps were taken in other missing-persons cases, he said.

The reason it took 36 days from the time the police received a rape complaint against Mr. Sowell to the day they finally obtained a search warrant, Lieutenant Stacho added, was that the victim avoided repeated efforts by the police to interview her.

But Ms. Drain, who still does not know what happened to her niece, said she was tired of waiting for answers. “I’m looking at 10 bodies and a skull, and I’m hoping one of them is Gloria,” Ms. Drain said, “because it would be closure for my family.”

    After Gruesome Find, Anger at Cleveland Police, NYT, 6.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/06/us/06cleveland.html






More Bodies Found at Cleveland Home


November 4, 2009
The New York Times


CLEVELAND (AP) — More remains were discovered Tuesday at the Cleveland home of a convicted rapist, raising to 10 the number of bodies that has been found there, the authorities said.

Four more bodies and a skull were found at the home, where the remains of six women were removed last week, said the police chief, Michael McGrath. Anthony Sowell, 50, who lives in the home, is in jail and was charged Tuesday with five counts of aggravated murder.

“It appears that this man had an insatiable appetite that he had to fill,” Chief McGrath said.

He said the additional bodies were found buried in the backyard. The skull was found in a bucket in the basement.

The authorities do not know whether the skull belongs to an 11th victim, said a police spokesman, Lt. Thomas Stacho.

The search was to continue Wednesday, with Fire Department crews planning to search in the walls of the home, Chief McGrath said.

Last week, investigators said they found one body in a shallow grave in the backyard. The rest were inside the house: one in the basement, two in the third-floor living room and two in an upstairs crawl space.

The police discovered the first six bodies Thursday and Friday after a woman reported being raped at Mr. Sowell’s home, and Mr. Sowell was also charged Tuesday with rape, felonious assault and kidnapping related to her complaint.

The Cuyahoga County coroner is trying to identify those women through DNA and dental records. All six were black, and five had been strangled.

The bodies could have been there for weeks or months or years, said Powell Caesar, a spokesman for the coroner.

On Tuesday, detectives brought in cadaver dogs and digging equipment to scour the home and backyard, Lieutenant Stacho said.

A crowd of about a hundred people milled about and chatted near the home Tuesday evening.

One of those in the crowd, Antoinnette Dudley, 29, lives a few houses away. Ms. Dudley said that all summer, she had smelled a terrible odor that suggested something was dead.

Mr. Sowell is a registered sex offender and required to check in regularly at the sheriff’s office. Officers did not have the right to enter his house, but they would stop by to make sure he was there. Their most recent visit was Sept. 22, just hours before the woman reported being raped.

For the last few years, Mr. Sowell’s neighbors thought the foul smell enveloping their street had been coming from a business in a brick building where workers churned out sausage and head cheese. The smell had become so overpowering that the owners of the business, Ray’s Sausage, replaced their sewer line and grease traps.

City Councilman Zack Reed, whose mother lives in the area, said he had called the city health department several times.

“What happened from there, we don’t know,” Mr. Reed said. “It was no secret that there was a foul odor. We don’t want to point fingers, but clearly something could have been done differently.”

Mr. Reed called for an investigation into whether the police and health inspectors missed any signs that could have tipped them off to the bodies inside the house.

    More Bodies Found at Cleveland Home, NYT, 4.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/04/us/04rape.html






Deputy Is Named L.A. Police Chief


November 3, 2009
Filed at 12:41 p.m. ET
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Charlie Beck, a 33-year veteran credited with cleaning up the image of the scandal-plagued Rampart Division, has been appointed chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, The Associated Press learned Tuesday.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed Beck to succeed William Bratton, according to a person in the mayor's office who spoke on condition of anonymity because a formal announcement was scheduled later in the day.

Beck, 56, declined to comment.

If his appointment is ratified by the City Council, as expected, he would become the city's 55th police chief.

Beck began his LAPD career as a reserve officer in 1975 and rose through the ranks to become deputy chief three years ago. He currently is in charge of detectives.

He replaces William Bratton, the former Boston and New York police chief who is credited with decreasing crime and improving race relations during his seven-year tenure in Los Angeles. Bratton is leaving the department for a private consulting job, three years before the expiration of his second, five-year term.

Bratton had indicated he wanted an LAPD insider to replace him and all three finalists fit the bill: Beck, First Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell and Deputy Chief Michel Moore.

Beck also could be expected to continue two of Bratton's priorities: community outreach and a crackdown on gangs. He spent much of his career working to reduce gang violence, according to a biography supplied by the mayor's office.

In 2003, Bratton appointed Beck captain of the Rampart Division, which was struggling with fallout from a 1999 scandal that uncovered corruption in its anti-gang unit.

Observers credited him with burnishing the division's image, in part by pushing community outreach efforts.

Beck's appointment was praised by the police officers union.

Beck is ''a consummate professional'' who is well-suited for the job, Los Angeles Police Protective League President Paul M. Weber said in a statement. ''We're confident that Chief Beck has the leadership skills to uphold the LAPD's position as one of the nation's premier law enforcement agencies.''

Beck comes from a law enforcement family. His father, George Beck, is a retired deputy chief. His daughter, Brandi Scimone, is a patrol officer in the Hollywood area; his son, Martin, is in the Police Academy; and his wife, Cindy Beck is a retired Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy.

During Bratton's tenure, the LAPD hired more officers; got a new headquarters; enacted court-ordered reforms and saw the end of eight years of federal oversight, and at least partially healed a breach with the city's black community stemming from decades of perceived police racism.

The force has increased by more than 800 officers since 2002 to its highest-ever level of about 10,000.

However, Beck will face a challenge to maintain officer morale; the city's financial crisis means officers are facing a contract that offers no pay raises.

    Deputy Is Named L.A. Police Chief, NYT, 3.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/11/03/us/AP-US-LA-Police-Chief.html






Man Is Charged in UConn Player’s Killing


October 28, 2009
The New York Times


University of Connecticut police arrested John William Lomax, a 21-year-old from Bloomfield, Conn., and charged him Tuesday with the stabbing murder of the Connecticut football player Jasper Howard during a fight on the Connecticut campus on Oct. 18.

Lomax was also charged with conspiracy to commit assault and was being held on $2 million bail. The police announced the arrest at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. They also said that two other men had been arrested and charged related to the fight. Hakim Muhammad, 20, also of Bloomfield, was charged with conspiracy to commit assault and was being held on $750,000 bail and James Todd, 21, of Hartford, faces charges for allegedly pulling the fire alarm that sent students streaming out of a dance in the student union before the fight.

Lomax’s lawyer, Deron Freeman, told The Hartford Courant earlier Tuesday that his client had been arrested in the morning after he had arrived at work. Freeman said Lomax “had nothing whatsoever to do with the stabbing” and had been trying to break up the fight.

Police officials did not take questions after making the announcement of the arrests and charges. Lomax and Muhammad are scheduled to appear in Superior Court in Rockville, Conn., on Wednesday.

Howard, 20, a starting cornerback, died of a single stab wound to the abdomen. He was with several teammates when the fight broke out in the chaos of students evacuating the dance. His funeral was Monday at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in his hometown of Miami and drew an estimated 1,700 people.

Lomax’s car had reportedly been towed from the Connecticut campus after the homicide, but the police had not said whether it was related to the murder. Officials said neither Lomax nor Muhammad were students at the school.

The police also said they had not found the murder weapon.

    Man Is Charged in UConn Player’s Killing, NYT, 28.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/28/sports/ncaafootball/28uconn.html






Police Vet More Than 1, 000 Tips in Girl's Death


October 25, 2009
Filed at 4:53 p.m. ET
The New York Times


ORANGE PARK, Fla. (AP) -- Investigators had more than a thousand tips but are still trying to figure out what happened when 7-year-old Somer Thompson disappeared on her walk home from a north Florida school last week.

At a fundraiser Sunday for Somer's family, children played in a bounce house as adults watched carefully. They vowed to find the girl's killer and raised about $18,500 so her mother doesn't have to go back to work immediately.

Somer's name and photo were everywhere at the carnival-like fundraiser, which was held in a tree-lined park in the town's center. A silent raffle, a bake sale and even glittery makeovers for little girls were offered to help the family after the girl went missing after school Monday. Her body was found in a Georgia landfill Wednesday.

''I've been crying since day one,'' said Amanda Wendorff, a co-organizer of the fundraiser. ''When it's a child, it just touches a community.''

Wendorff, the wife of a Clay County Sheriff's deputy, has four children of her own. She urged people at the carnival to be on the lookout for anyone suspicious -- underscoring the fear that is running deep in the community.

Meanwhile, detectives from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are combing through tips: more than 1,150 calls from people around the U.S. have poured in regarding the little girl.

So far, no one has come forward to say they saw the girl abducted or attacked. Investigators have ruled out all 161 registered sex offenders who lived within a 5-mile radius of Somer's home.

Thompson's mother, Diena Thompson, has praised the hard work of investigators.

''These detectives -- excuse my language -- are busting their (expletive) to find it. Because it's an it,'' Diena Thompson said Saturday, referring to the killer of her daughter.

When reached by The Associated Press by phone Sunday, Thompson declined an interview.

''I don't want to think about doing any news until after I bury my baby,'' she said.

A public viewing and funeral are planned for Monday and Tuesday, but graveside services and the burial will be private.

Dozens of mourners and supporters have held nightly vigils outside the Thompsons' home. They have gathered around a huge makeshift memorial of Hannah Montana balloons, stuffed animals and candles that have burned so long that the wax has melted into the grass.

''I'm shocked that this could happen in this type of community,'' Somer's maternal great-grandmother, Marie Spires of New Richmond, Ohio, said Saturday. ''And that no one would see or hear anything.''

An autopsy has been completed and investigators know how Somer died, but authorities won't disclose their findings or any details about the body.

Spires said she doesn't know how the little girl died.

Family and friends described Somer as a friendly little girl who rode her scooter around the neighborhood.

''She never met a stranger. She was very friendly,'' said Robert O'Cain, a neighbor. ''She was always looking for other kids to play with.''

Tina Justyna said her daughter, 11, would often go to the library with Somer at school -- and the pair would look at books about kittens and puppies. Her daughter is devastated that Somer is gone, she said.

''I don't let her watch the news,'' Justyna said. ''She lost one of the few friends she had.''


Associated Press writer Ron Word contributed to this report.

    Police Vet More Than 1, 000 Tips in Girl's Death, NYT, 25.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/10/25/us/AP-US-Girl-In-Landfill.html






Body of Missing Florida Girl Is Found


October 23, 2009
The New York Times


A nationwide, two-day search for a missing 7-year-old Florida girl ended when her body was discovered in a southeast Georgia landfill on Wednesday afternoon, and investigators on Thursday intensified their search for a suspect in the slaying.

The authorities said they identified the child as Somer Renee Thompson, of Orange Park, Fla., from a birthmark on her left shin, and the clothing she was wearing. An autopsy was being performed on Thursday by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in Savannah to confirm her identity and to determine the cause of death.

“There is a child killer on the loose and that’s why we’re going to catch this person and bring him to justice,” the Clay County sheriff, Rick Beseler, said at a news conference early Thursday morning outside of Jacksonville, Fla. “This is a heinous crime that’s been committed. I fear for our community until we bring this person in.”

Sheriff Beseler said investigators got their first break in the case when they decided to follow the trail of garbage trucks from the neighborhood where Somer disappeared. Garbage was collected on Tuesday and taken to the Chesser Island Road Landfill, near Folkston, Ga. Investigators sorted through more than 100,000 tons of garbage.

According to various news reports, Somer had gotten into an argument with a friend while walking home from Grove Park Elementary School, about a mile away, and stormed off alone.

Sheriff Beseler would not release details about the abduction, or reports that that the police have questioned more than 70 registered sex offenders in the area. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 161 sex offenders live within a five-mile radius of Somer’s home.

“I don’t think that is shocking or surprising,” Dr. David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center in New Hampshire, said of the number of sex offenders living in the area.

Dr. Finkelhor added in a telephone interview on Thursday: “I am of the opinion that these kinds of crimes have declined. They are shocking and galvanizing to the communities where they occur. But some of the research suggests that the effort we have made, both in flushing out sex offenders, incarcerating them and doing things like registering them and keeping tabs on them, are among the things responsible for the decline.”

Sheriff Beseler said he told Diena Thompson, Somer’s mother, to be prepared for the worst when a body was found after 3 p.m. on Wednesday, and he said he he called her again at 9 p.m. to tell her it was Somer.

“Needless to say, she was absolutely devastated,” he said. “It was the hardest phone call I’ve ever had to make in my life, and I hope I never have to make another one like that.”

    Body of Missing Florida Girl Is Found, NYT, 23.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/23/us/23girl.html






Lab Technician Arrested in Murder of Yale Student


September 18, 2009
The New York Times


A lab technician was arrested early Thursday and charged in the murder of Annie M. Le, a Yale graduate student whose body was hidden in the wall of a university building after she was strangled, the police in New Haven said.

The technician, Raymond Clark III, 24, was taken into custody at a Super 8 motel in Cromwell, Conn., after DNA evidence linked him to Ms. Le’s killing, the police said. He did not resist. Chief James Lewis of the New Haven police would not provide a motive when he announced the arrest, but he emphasized that the authorities believed it was a workplace crime.

"It is important to note that this is not about urban crime, university crime, domestic crime, but an issue of workplace violence, which is becoming a growing concern around the country,” he said.

Mr. Clark was charged with murder and arraigned in New Haven Superior Court. Judge Jon C. Blue set bail at $3 million because, he said, it was “obviously a very serious case.”

Mr. Clark, wearing khaki pants and a striped polo shirt, which exposed tattoos that swirled around both his forearms, kept his head down throughout the five-minute arraignment. In response to the judge’s confirming that he had read Mr. Clark his rights, Mr. Clark simply nodded and said, “Yes, Sir.”

He did not enter a plea, and his next court appearance will be on Oct. 6. The arrest warrant was sealed for 14 days because it was part of the continuing investigation, the authorities said.

Mr. Clark had been described as a “person of interest” in the case earlier in the week, and he had been taken briefly into custody, at which point DNA and hair samples were taken from him under court order. He was then released, but the police said they remained aware of his whereabouts at all times.

A law enforcement official said on Wednesday that Mr. Clark had scratch marks on his chest and on his arms, where there were also bruises. This raised the suspicions of investigators, said the official, who refused to be identified because the case was still open.

Mr. Clark and Ms. Le worked in the same building — Mr. Clark as a technician and Ms. Le watching experiments with mice — but little else was known about whether there was any connection or relationship between them. Ms. Le’s body was found in a wall in the basement of the building on Sunday, the day she was to be married. She had been missing since the previous Tuesday.

Chief Lewis said that Mr. Clark and Ms. Le did not have a romantic connection, and he repeated that it was not a “street crime” or a “domestic crime.” He added: “We have to really educate ourselves who we work with and how we deal with each other and those issues.”

Richard C. Levin, the president of Yale, released a statement that echoed Chief Lewis’s comment describing the killing as workplace related. “This incident could have happened in any city, in any university, or in any workplace,” he said. “It says more about the dark side of the human soul than it does about the extent of security measures.”

He implored members of the Yale population to trust one another, referring at one point to those who work in laboratory settings, as Ms. Le and Mr. Clark did. “It is frightening that a member of our own community might have committed this terrible crime,” Mr. Levin said. “But we must not let this incident shatter our trust in one another. The work of the University requires us to engage with each other in the classroom, to collaborate in the laboratory, and to trust one another in workplaces across the campus.”

Looking forward, he said: “In the days and weeks ahead, we will redouble our efforts to educate the community about Yale’s zero tolerance policy for violent, threatening, and abusive behavior.”

The arrest capped 24 hours of fast-moving developments in the case.

On Thursday, the police had said that Mr. Clark was not the only person they were looking at in connection with Ms. Le’s disappearance and death. But he was the only one from whom they had taken DNA samples, and the only one whose car — a red Ford Mustang — they had hauled away to search.

Chief Lewis said that investigators had taken more than 200 items from the crime scene with potential DNA evidence that could be compared with the samples from Mr. Clark. Earlier in the week, Chief Lewis said the police had interviewed 150 people and had watched 700 hours of surveillance video from cameras in and around the building where Ms. Le’s body was found — and where Mr. Clark worked.

The police said they did not question Mr. Clark on Tuesday night. They had questioned him earlier, Chief Lewis said, but he had invoked his right to a lawyer. He was represented by David H. Dworski of Fairfield, Conn., and the New Haven public defender’s office was also providing counsel.

The public defender’s office declined to comment. Mr. Dworski said in a statement, “We are committed to proceeding appropriately with authorities with whom we are in regular communication.”

By Wednesday afternoon, about 12 hours after Mr. Clark was released, Connecticut’s chief medical examiner released the cause of Ms. Le’s death, a finding he had withheld earlier in the week at the request of the state’s attorney in New Haven. A spokeswoman for the medical examiner, Dr. H. Wayne Carver II, said Ms. Le had been strangled — she died from “traumatic asphyxia” caused by “neck compression.”

Chief Lewis would not say whether she had been sexually assaulted.

A spokesman for the New Haven police, Officer Joe Avery, said there was no indication that she had complained of being stalked or harassed by Mr. Clark or anyone else in recent weeks.

Mr. Clark, who lives in Middletown with his companion — she is also an animal research technician at Yale — had been a focus of the police for several days. On Wednesday afternoon, after removing boxes of items from Mr. Clark’s apartment, investigators were knocking on his neighbors’ doors seeking information about him.

Chief Lewis refused to discuss a police report from 2003, when Mr. Clark was a senior at Branford High School and the police were called about a dispute with his girlfriend at the time. According to the police document, reported Wednesday in The New Haven Independent, a news Web site, she wanted to break up but he did not, and he tried to confront her. She complained to the school authorities, who called the police, but she did not press charges, according to the Web site.

Mr. Clark grew up in a rented gray house in a working-class neighborhood of aspirations when a nearby factory was humming. Jim Garrett, 65, who lives two doors down, said the house the Clarks lived in deteriorated as the years went by and the factory closed, and eventually Mr. Clark’s parents moved out. They went to a condominium in Cromwell, Conn., north of Middletown, where Mr. Clark’s mother works in the Wal-Mart across the street.

In high school, he joined the Asian Awareness Club, which made spring rolls for a faculty lunch and organized a trip to Chinatown for the Chinese New Year. He also joined the Interact Club, which focused on community problems like homelessness. And he played football and baseball, throwing long bombs as a quarterback and knuckleballs as a pitcher.

At Yale, Mr. Clark’s work habits were described by one researcher as “very officious and very demanding.” But Mr. Garrett remembered Mr. Clark as “industrious and busy.” More than once, Mr. Clark rang the doorbell with Mr. Garrett’s runaway beagle at his heels. “Your dog was loose,” Mr. Clark would tell him.

Mr. Clark was pictured several times in the Branford High School yearbook in 2004, his senior year. The first photograph was with the Asian Awareness Club; the second was with the Interact Club. He was also shown with the Cheers for Charity Club, which gave baby showers for two pregnant women. It also raised money for lymphoma and leukemia research, the yearbook said.

The last picture of Mr. Clark in the yearbook is with the baseball team. In contrast to the photographs on the club pages, where he is grinning, in the baseball picture, he looks stoic.

Teammates remembered Mr. Clark as a talented, versatile and competitive athlete. “He played sports hard,” said Michael Tamsin, 23, who was on the baseball and football teams at Branford High School. “On the field, he went about his business and he got the job done.”

Conor Reardon, 23, who was on the team with Mr. Clark, said that he and other teammates got Mr. Clark to succumb to a baseball rite of passage, chewing tobacco.

“But the next day, he came to school late because it had made him so sick that when he got out of his car that night he could barely stand up,” Mr. Reardon said, adding that Mr. Clark “ended up falling asleep in the bathtub in his baseball uniform after taking a shower fully clothed.”


James Barron contributed reporting.

    Lab Technician Arrested in Murder of Yale Student, NYT, 18.9.2009,  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/18/nyregion/18yale.html