Thursday, April 24, 2014
The Associated Press
MONUMENT, Colo. — The fatal shooting of Colorado's top prisons official when he answered the front door at his house highlights a troubling reality for the nation's judges, prosecutors and other legal officials: At a time when attacks on them are rising, it's difficult for them to remain secure, even when they are off duty.
Searchers use a dog Wednesday to search the area around the Monument, Colo., home of Colorado Department of Corrections Executive Director Tom Clements, who was shot and killed Tuesday evening.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at a news conference at the Capitol in Denver on Wednesday, March 20, 2013, where he talks about the shooting death of Tom Clements, the executive director of the Department of Corrections, who was shot and killed when he answered the front door of his house Tuesday night, in Monument, Colo. Police are searching for the gunman and trying to figure out if the attack had anything to do with his position. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
Investigators do not yet know why Tom Clements, 58, was shot around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at his home just north of Colorado Springs. They could not rule out any possibilities, including that it was a random shooting or that it was an attack related to Clements' job, authorities said.
While small in numbers, similar attacks on officials have been increasing in the U.S. in recent years, said Glenn McGovern, an investigator with the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office in California who tracks such incidents worldwide. He said there have been roughly as many in the past three years — at least 35 — as the entire prior decade. Revenge is usually the motive, he added.
"It's often taking place away from the office, which makes sense, because everyone's hardening up their facilities," he said, adding that he advises prosecutors in their houses to constantly assess the safety of their residences.
On Jan. 31, Texas prosecutor Mark Hasse was gunned down as he left his car in the parking lot to the county courthouse. McGovern also counts the rampage by an ex-Los Angeles police officer who killed the daughter of a retired city police officer as part of a plot to avenge his firing.
In Colorado, a prosecutor was fatally shot in 2008 as he returned to his Denver house. In 2001, federal prosecutor Thomas Wales was fatally shot by a rifleman while he worked on a computer at night in his Seattle home. Both cases remain unsolved.
Attacks on legal officials are still extremely rare, said Scott Burns of the National District Attorneys Association, which counts 11 prosecutors as having been slain in the last 50 years. But he acknowledged that legal officials are vulnerable outside of protected offices and courthouses.
"If someone wants to truly harm or kill them, it's very difficult, frankly. There's not a lot we can do," he said.
Mike McLelland, the district attorney in rural Kaufman county east of Dallas, is a 23-year military veteran. Since his prosecutor, Hasse, was killed on his way into the office, McLelland has warned his staff to be vigilant about their surroundings and possible danger.
"The people in my line of work are going to have to get a lot better at it, because they're going to need it more in the future," McLelland said, adding that he carries a gun everywhere he goes.
Colorado Corrections spokeswoman Adrienne Jacobson would not comment on whether Clements had security at his home. Security was stepped up for other state officials, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was ashen-faced as he addressed reporters at the capitol Wednesday.
"Tom Clements dedicated his life to being a public servant, to making our state a better place and he is going to be deeply, deeply missed," said Hickenlooper. In response to a question, he said he believed the rest of his cabinet was safe.
Clements came to Colorado in 2011 after working three decades in the Missouri prison system. He began a review of Colorado's solitary confinement system. He reduced the number of prisoners being held in solitary and closed a new prison built specifically to hold such prisoners — Colorado State Penitentiary II.
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The wooded home in Monument, Colo., of Colorado Department of Corrections director Tom Clements is seen on Wednesday, March 20, 2013. Clements was shot to death Tuesday night when he answered the front door. (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Mark Reis)
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This undated image provided by the Colorado Department of Corrections shows its director Tom Clements. Sheriff's Lt. Jeff Kramer says Clements was shot to death around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday night March 19, 2013 when he answered his front door in Monument, north of Colorado Springs. Police are searching for the shooter. (AP Photo/Colorado Department of Corrections)