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When police officer Christopher Matlosz was executed in broad daylight while on routine patrol on Jan. 14, 2011, shock and grief extended well beyond his family to the 119 members of the Lakewood Police Department.
“When you have an officer killed the way Chris Matlosz was — he was pretty much assassinated, he didn’t stand a chance — it’s just like a member of your family is killed,” Lakewood Police Chief Robert Lawson said.
The emotions go beyond grief and despair, he said.
“It shatters your own image of invulnerability, which you need, or you couldn’t do your job,” Lawson said.
A helping hand by Lakewood police officers
On a recent afternoon, I was driving south on Union Boulevard near 6th Avenue. The right lane was blocked by two Lakewood police cars and I assumed an accident had occurred. When I got closer, I could see a motorist pushing his stalled vehicle down the street, his right hand through the window on the steering wheel — an experience I suspect we can all relate to. But as I got even closer, I was surprised to see two Lakewood police officers pushing the vehicle, running at near full speed in 95-degree weather! I imagine they saved the driver a towing fee while clearing the traffic lane in the shortest possible time.
I’m guessing this story won’t make the paper, so I just wanted to share it with other Post readers and say: Thanks, guys — nice work.
Richard Zietz, Lakewood
Forza Coffee Shop, once a pitstop near the highway, it is now a symbol of community and honor.
“It was the community that wanted us to focus on that and it was really a lot of their ideas too,” says owner Brad Carpenter in reference to the new memorial outside of the shop.
Carpenter says they wanted a place to honor the Lakewood four. Officer Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens, Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officer Greg Richards were gunned down Nov. 29, 2009 at the coffee shop in Parkland. It’s now a place to reflect.
And for Centralia resident Judith Foy, it’s a place to mourn.
“Whenever we’re up here we want to go by here and say a blessing,” she said.
When the Lakewood Police Department opened its new headquarters last year, there was no need for a memorial paying tribute to officers killed while patrolling the city’s streets.
Then, Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards were gunned down Nov. 29 at a Parkland coffee shop while preparing for their Sunday shifts.
Now, the Lakewood community will have two memorials honoring the officers.
Crews started working earlier this month on a black granite wall and plaza outside the Police Department’s headquarters at 9401 Lakewood Drive S.W. It will honor the four fallen officers and those who might die in the future while on duty in Lakewood.
Less than three miles away, another monument – featuring a retaining wall, sculpture and four flag poles – is being erected at 116th Street South and Steele Street South, just steps from the Forza coffee shop where the four officers were killed last year.
The Lakewood Police Department is still reeling from November’s deadly ambush.
“It varies day to day, some better than others,” said Lt. Heidi Hoffman.
Touched by those deaths, a Tacoma dog breeder has just donated a four-legged friend to the force. Buying a good police dog can cost a department as much as $5,000.
“We travel worldwide for dogs to find the right dog and go through several hundred hours of trying to locate a dog. So when people donate and it’s a quality dog, it helps us immensely,” said Sean Conlan, a K-9 handler.
A Pierce County sheriff’s deputy severely wounded during a domestic violence call is a family man who loves adventure and gave up a comfortable career in manufacturing to enter law enforcement, friends and family say.
Kent Mundell Jr. was in critical condition Wednesday at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, spokeswoman Susan Gregg-Hanson said. He and sheriff’s Sgt. Nick Hausner were wounded Monday night by a man who was killed in the shootout as the two officers were trying to remove him from his brother’s home near Eatonville. Police identified the gunman as David E. Crable, 35, who they say had a history of domestic violence.
Hausner, 43, recovering from his injuries at Madigan Army Medical Center south of Tacoma, is doing well but is worried about Mundell, said family member Larry Erb, who spent time with him on Tuesday.
“I saw Nick this morning; he’s in good spirits,” Erb told The Seattle Times. “He’s looking fine. He’s actually more worried about his partner than himself.”
Relatives and fellow officers gathered at Harborview, where Mundell, 44, is in the intensive-care unit with life-threatening injuries.
His stepbrother, Larry Stafford, told The Times he felt “emptiness, sick to my stomach” when he heard Mundell had been hurt.
Mundell, who lives near Puyallup, loves camping, boating and outdoor sports, Stafford said, and is a licensed pilot who owned a plane and has skydived.
“His motto was: ‘If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.’ That’s how he lived his life,” Stafford said.
Mundell married his high-school sweetheart, Lisa, more than 20 years ago, and dotes on her, his 16-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son, his stepbrother said.
In the 1990s, Mundell worked for a window and door company, becoming a midlevel manager, family members said. But he quit that job to become a sheriff’s deputy.
“He wasn’t a guy who was going to sit at a desk,” Stafford said. “He was wired as a thrill-seeker.”
Mundell “always liked the things that maybe made other people afraid,” said his mother, Pat Stafford.
“He was always the kid who would take up the new sport and just excel at it, whether it was dirt-bike riding or skiing, kite boarding, jet skiing,” she said. “He was always just lunging ahead with a sense of adventure and daring.”
“He’s one of the best fathers I have ever seen in my life,” she added. “That has nothing to do with his being hurt today. I would have told you that a week ago or a month ago.”
Mundell’s stepmother, Dorene Mundell, of Belton, Texas, said she and her husband, Kent Sr., got a phone call at midnight Monday, telling them of the shooting. At first she couldn’t believe it.
“I said, ‘I think you have the wrong number.’”
Mundell loves his wife and children and is close to his extended family, she said.
“He seemed so happy for all of us to be welcomed into his side of the family,” Dorene Mundell said. “My daughters loved him. My only grandson calls him Uncle Kent, and I’m about to cry talking about it.”
Monday’s shootings occurred just over three weeks after four Lakewood police officers were shot to death in Pierce County. Suspect Maurice Clemmons was shot and killed by a Seattle police officer two days later.
A month earlier, Seattle Officer Timothy Brenton was killed and his partner wounded as they sat in a patrol car Halloween night. Christopher Monfort, 41, has been charged with aggravated first-degree murder in Brenton’s death.
Many Lakewood police officers are friends with Mundell and Hausner. Lakewood Police Chief Brett Farrar, who worked in the sheriff’s department with Hausner for 15 years, said he is known for his patience and skill as a trainer for fellow officers.
“He is a good deputy. A smart, sharp guy and a good family man,” Farrar said.
Hausner lives in Eatonville with his wife, Melanie, and two children, ages 14 and 12.
“He’s a real family guy, a real salt-of-the-earth person who would help anybody,” said Erb, Melanie’s uncle. “He’s a throwback to the good old days when families were close-knit and tight.”
One place where that is clearly evident is in Tukwila, at the apartment complex where Christopher Monfort was captured last month.
Monfort is accused of killing Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton and wounding his partner on Halloween.
The blue lights are also being displayed around the Puget Sound area in honor of the four Lakewood police officers killed in last month.
AS the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marched and marched and marched into the Tacoma Dome, I sobbed for the children and the spouses of the four officers killed by Maurice Clemmons — and for myself.
As a cop’s wife, I know the risks.
Few people understand the stress and anxiety inherent in a law-enforcement career.
Decades ago I proclaimed, “I’ll never marry a cop.” A husband whose career clothes include a bulletproof vest, service revolver and a uniform? Never. But I fell in love with a cop — and married him.
And that uniform often blinds citizens.
When a friend’s sister parked illegally, she screamed as the tow truck pulled up.
“I’m transporting my elderly mother!” she claimed.
As my uniformed husband approached her, she didn’t recognize him, a man she had entertained in her home. When he reminded her that her mother died years ago, she finally recognized him, mumbled about his uniform — and moved her car.
Years ago, when my husband proposed to me, he apologized for his stressful career.
“I am marrying you, not your job,” I said.
I believed my naive declaration until our first New Year’s Eve. Wearing a perfect red dress, I couldn’t wait to meet our friends for dinner. I was brushing my teeth when the phone rang.
“Honey, there’s a riot at the prison; we are called in for backup, gotta go. I’ll call you, if I can,” my husband said, then grabbed his car keys and disappeared into the night.
He never called. I imagined him in a shootout with prisoners or held hostage in a dank cement room, tortured by cop-hating felons. I drove to the police station and interrogated the dispatcher.
Hours later, the back door of the police station flew open and my husband marched in.
“The boys are back from the war,” he said, smiling.
He and the just-in-case cops spent the night sipping prison coffee, waiting for instructions that never came.
“That’s it?!” I whined.
“Be grateful,” he said.
On his dangerous days of arresting drug dealers and two-strike rapists, I am grateful for his keen skills and intuitive wisdom. He is trained to protect citizens through his split-second choices — choices that could change our family’s life, too.
When a person drove by gleefully waving a gun toward my uniformed husband, my husband’s split-second decision was to reach for his own gun. Then a toddler’s head popped up from the back seat; my husband did not draw his weapon, but pursued the car.
The taunting man who brandished the gun, a toy gun, went to jail.
That night I screamed at my husband for not drawing his gun. I yelled about life insurance and widowhood.
Screaming is not healthy stress management. Cops themselves often use humor.
When an angry citizen yelled, “I pay your salary!” the officer waved his partner over.
“Get over here! I found him, finally. This is who we’ve been looking for — the guy who pays our salary. We have a lot to talk about!” he said.
Bystanders laughed, the cops bantered, the man calmed down.
After 30 years, I have calmed down, too.
But I know that keen skills and intuition may not protect even the savviest officers. What sane person would suspect danger while sipping coffee with colleagues or pausing in a patrol car to review a traffic stop?
The Canadian Mounties have marched home. Law enforcement families return to routines with mournful hearts.
I sip tea next to our Christmas tree as a siren wails in the night; I know someone’s life has been changed forever by a fatal crash, a missing child, a crisis. A police officer may soon deliver a death notice or arrest a bad guy.
I climb into our empty bed. I glance at the clock as I whisper into the night, praying that my uniformed man, a husband and father, will soon open our front door and arrive home — safely — one more time.
By Catherine Johnston
A Lakewood police officer, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he was inspired to write the following Christmas letter earlier this week.
The officer credits one small boy’s donation of support to the Lakewood Police Department as the big reason he has regained hope for this holiday season.
The officer sent it to friends, family members and other law enforcement officers.
A Tukwila police officer received the officer’s permission to release it to the public:
I’m not much for writing Christmas letters, and in fact this year, I didn’t even feel like making the effort of buying and addressing Christmas cards at all. I’m sure you all have heard of the terrible tragedy that occurred here in Lakewood two weeks ago today – four of our officers, four people that have become my friends over the past 5 years as we all worked here together, were gunned down as they sat in a coffee shop. Three fathers and a mother – all of whom were dedicated to their jobs and their families – now dead. The grief at our station and in our community has been overwhelming and we have all now just barely begun to process what this means for our department and for police departments all across our state and nation. Several times since this event happened, police agencies have responded to reports of individuals across King and Pierce Counties causing commotions and claiming to be planning to kill more officers. We do our best to maintain our composure and continue to do our jobs the best that we can.
It is hard not to remain bleak and jaded with these events so fresh in our minds. But something happened today, just 20 minutes ago, which made me want to send out a Christmas letter. I’m here at work and was just out in our secure parking lot helping another officer load collection bins into his car to take to a local Lakewood Police Independent Guild fundraiser event. I heard a woman, standing with a boy who couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 years old, calling, “Excuse me….” through our locked gate. She had apparently been trying to get to our front counter but found no one there, it being Sunday, and had just happened to see us in the parking lot. I walked over to her and saw that the little boy was holding a plastic baggy containing a dollar and some change, and was clutching a well-worn stuffed dinosaur.
The woman told me that her son, AJ, had seen the stories on tv about our 4 slain officers. She said that they had driven to our station all the way from Kingston because her son was so intent on helping the children of these officers. I opened the gate and the boy handed me the plastic baggy containing all the money from his piggybank and a note on which he had written “AJ….From me to Pleec. I Love You.” And then, with tears in his eyes, he handed me his stuffed dinosaur. AJ’s mom explained that he wanted to give the children of the slain officers the most precious thing that he owned, and that was his dinosaur, Bruno.
I told AJ that I would take the money that he wanted to donate, but that I thought the best thing he could do for the children of our 4 officers was to keep Bruno safe with him but to keep those kids in his heart when he hugged his dinosaur. He agreed and gratefully took Bruno back from me and held him tightly as if he never wanted to let him go again.
We have seen many, many acts of generosity and kindness over the past 2 weeks. We have hugged more friends and strangers than we could have ever imagined and have mended broken ties with people we haven’t talked to for years. Yet nothing has touched me deeper, or given me more hope for the future, than AJ and his stuffed dinosaur. I gave AJ one of our department challenge coins, explaining to him that we only gave them out to the bravest and most deserving people we came across. I hope he will realize someday how much more than a dollar and some change he gave to me and to the Lakewood Police Department today.
So anyway, none of that is about Christmas, but it is about hope and love and I thought it was appropriate to share this holiday season.
I hope this letter finds all of you well and eager to spend the holidays with those you love. Squeeze everyone a little tighter and hug them a little longer today because life really is precious. Merry Christmas!
The task for Lakewood police sounds simple enough: Continue to protect the second-largest city in Pierce County as they have since the department was founded five years ago.
But much attention since Nov. 29 has focused on grieving and remembering four officers slain at a Parkland coffee shop: Sgt. Mark Renninger, and officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards.
The public grief culminated a week ago with a memorial service at the Tacoma Dome that was larger and as emotional as any ever seen in Washington.
Now, one practical matter Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar must address is how and when to fill the jobs held by the officers who were gunned down by Maurice Clemmons.
“We have four open positions that we’re going to need to fill,” Farrar said Thursday in his office, where four black ribbons used in the officers’ memorial ceremony hung on a wall. “We’re going to look at our hiring lists and see who’s qualified for the job.”
Most likely, he said, the department will begin the search early next year.
Getting an officer on the street takes more than making a job offer. Even if the department fills the vacant positions internally, four other officers will have to be replaced. The new recruits most likely will attend training for about a year, during which the city will pay their wages.
“We are now just starting to think about that,” said assistant chief Mike Zaro.
Before the shootings, Lakewood had 103 commissioned police officers with no vacancies, Farrar said. It has backfilled the shifts that the four officers worked by paying overtime. Outside police agencies also donated services, including traffic control at the police station memorial and patrolling the streets of Lakewood during the Dec. 8 ceremony. But they have since returned to their own communities.
Lakewood will continue paying overtime next year, although officials said the extra time probably won’t push the Police Department beyond its proposed budget. Farrar said he’s also considering shifting officers – even neighborhood cops who are assigned to one of six areas throughout the city – to help fill occasional gaps on general patrol.
Farrar said he hasn’t heard of any of the remaining 99 officers having to take leave to deal with their grief. In fact, on the day the four were killed, off-duty officers checked into headquarters ready to cover for their fallen comrades.
The Police Department offers counseling and other help if officers need to talk to someone about the shootings.
Next year’s Lakewood city budget calls for staffing 103 officers. That won’t change.
“For us not to fill the police positions would be equivalent to cutting the police budget,” Lakewood City Manager Andrew Neiditz said. “We are not going to do that.”
Lakewood’s public safety budget is $19.7 million next year, roughly half of the city’s total $37.1 million spending plan. About $14 million pays for police salaries and benefits. That’s a little more than what the Lakewood City Council approved in police salaries and personnel in the 2009 budget.
Meanwhile, other police agencies are having to trim staff and expenses. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department will lose 15 deputies next year.
Neiditz and other city leaders say they haven’t set a timeline for Farrar to fill the four openings.
“The Lakewood City Council is going to provide the budget to the citizens that we said we were going to provide,” Mayor Doug Richardson said.
Farrar stressed at the Tacoma Dome memorial that his officers will never forget their co-workers and friends. As of Monday, the department hadn’t erased the white duty board from the four officers’ last shift. Their pictures are framed in the lobby area. The police union continues to raise money for the families. Officers still wear black bars of mourning across their badges.
Despite their hurt, Lakewood police are resolved to do their jobs.
Sgt. Mark Eakes said the saddest episode in the department’s young history has left officers with a lot of emotions. Still, the outpouring of support has helped them endure the tragedy and do their jobs.
“There are still people hurting other people out there, and we still have got to protect them,” he said.
The department is already showing signs of a return to normalcy. In the lobby, a Christmas tree welcomes visitors.
Outside at a makeshift memorial – where thousands of people visited in the days after the shootings – the tribute no longer stretches around the corner of the police station.
Workers have removed flowers and plants that couldn’t survive freezing temperatures. They also took cards and other signs of support to give to the families of Renninger, Griswold, Owens and Richards. All that was left Monday were memorial wreaths, small American flags and a few other items.
Lakewood plans to erect a permanent memorial, already getting commitments from architectural and engineering firms to volunteer their services.
When asked what assurance he’d give Lakewood residents in light of the tragedy, Farrar said his officers are more committed than ever to protect and serve.
“Just look around,” Farrar said. “You’ll see the Lakewood cars out and about.
“They’re determined to take care of the citizens of Lakewood.”
By Brent Champaco