MONUMENT – 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.
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 about as many in the last three years – at least 35 – as the entire previous decade. Revenge usually is the motive, he said.
“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.
Colorado Corrections spokeswoman Adrienne Jacobson would not comment about 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.
He lived in a wooded neighborhood of large, two-story houses on expansive 2-acre lots dotted with evergreen trees in an area known as the Black Forest. Long driveways connect the homes to narrow, winding roads that thread the hills. After word of the shooting spread Wednesday, residents slept with shotguns at the ready, fearful the shooter would return.
It would have been simple to find Clements’ house. It took two clicks to get his correct street address through a publicly available internet locator service Wednesday morning. The listing also included his previous home address in Missouri.
While Clements generally kept a low profile, his killing comes a week after he denied a request by a Saudi national to serve out the remainder of a Colorado prison sentence in Saudi Arabia. He cited Homaidan al-Turki’s refusal to undergo sex-offender treatment.
Al-Turki insisted the case was politically motivated. He owned a company that some years ago sold CDs of sermons recorded by Anwar al-Awlaki, killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. His conviction angered Saudi officials and prompted the U.S. State Department to send Colorado Attorney General John Suthers to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Abdullah, Crown Prince Sultan and al-Turki’s family.
Clements also recently requested chemicals to execute Nathan Dunlap, who was convicted of killing four people during a 1993 shooting rampage at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant and is scheduled to become the second person executed in Colorado since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976.
Hickenlooper ordered flags lowered to half-staff at public buildings until the day after Clements’ funeral.