Colo. prison chief shot dead on eve of tougher gun laws
The night before Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, signed Colorado’s toughest gun laws in a decade, his prisons director was shot dead when he answered the door of his home.
Tom Clements, 58, executive director of the Department of Corrections, was killed about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at his home in Monument, north of Colorado Springs, Hickenlooper said in a statement posted on his Facebook page.
The governor said in a televised press conference that the shooting was “an act of intimidation,” though it wasn’t directed at his cabinet in general. Hickenlooper, a first-term Democrat, signed the gun laws yesterday in a private ceremony.
“I can hardly believe it, let alone write words to describe it,” he told employees of Clements’s shooting in an email. “As your Executive Director, he helped change and improve DOC in two years more than most people could do in eight years.”
The motive for the killing was unclear. “We don’t know anything at this point,” Hickenlooper said at the news conference.
The police were combing wooded hills in search of a suspect.
“There is no evidence of a home invasion,” said Lt. Jeff Kramer, a spokesman for the El Paso County sheriff’s office, the Denver Post reported. “We know of his position and realize that it is a possible motive for a crime such as this.”
Hickenlooper appointed Clements, who spent 31 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections, as executive director in 2011.
He was killed a week after denying a request of a Saudi Arabian prisoner convicted of sexually assaulting a housekeeper to be sent to home to serve his sentence, according to the Associated Press. Clements said state law requires sex offenders to undergo treatment while in prison and that the prisoner declined to participate, the AP reported.
Clements’s impact was “significant,” House Minority Leader Mark Waller, a Republican, said in a statement.
“In his short time as the executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Tom worked tirelessly to reduce recidivism and make our communities safer,” Waller said. “Colorado has lost a great professional, and more importantly, an outstanding person.”
Clements is survived by his widow, Lisa, and their two daughters.
They lived in a neighborhood of homes on two-acre lots in an area known as the Black Forest, where long driveways connect houses to roads winding through hills, the AP reported. The Clements residence was out of view, behind a barricade of crime-scene tape, according to the news service.
The governor signed a bill yesterday requiring background checks for all gun sales and a measure limiting high-capacity ammunition magazines. The measures were inspired by the deaths of 12 people in an Aurora movie theater last year when a gunman opened fire.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, in whose district Clements lived, has said he would not enforce new restrictions because the second amendment is “non-negotiable.”
“Sadly enough, those who propose these restrictions never would or could guarantee that by imposing such restrictions will ensure the safety of our communities.” Maketa said in an essay posted on his website. “It does however, target law-abiding citizens and chips away at our constitutional rights.”
Telephone messages left at the department were not immediately returned.
Debra Reed, a spokeswoman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, said the killing proved why such laws are crucial.
“We don’t know the facts yet, but we do know this is incredibly sad irony that this has taken place less than 24 hours before the governor planned to sign meaningful gun legislation,” she said. “There is no better illustration of what damage guns can do in the wrong hands than the shooting last night.”
Firearms legislation is also being debated in Congress and statehouses nationwide, with Colorado’s action seen as a barometer of public willingness to support restrictions.
Both houses of the state’s General Assembly are controlled by Democrats, who introduced an agenda of gun-control legislation Feb. 5. Five bills were advanced over objections of Republicans, who argued that they were overly broad, did nothing to improve safety and infringed on Second Amendment rights.
The remaining two, including a measure that would require domestic-violence offenders to surrender firearms and a bill that requires in-person training for concealed-carry permit applicants, await House committee hearings.