COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – Corrections officials and guards from as far away as Morocco are among the hundreds of people who turned out Monday to honor the Colorado prisons’ chief killed last week while answering his front door.
Those honoring Tom Clements at a memorial service at New Life Church included 39 current and former corrections’ chiefs as well as guards from 14 states. A delegation of corrections officials from Morocco also attended along with dignitaries including Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Attorney John Walsh.
Hickenlooper and his widow both spoke about Clements’ strong belief in redemption. His family said he decided as a teenage to work in corrections after visiting his uncle in prison, and he worked to reduce the use of solitary confinement in Colorado prisons.
Standing with her two daughters, Lisa Clements said her husband of 28 years would want justice as well as forgiveness.
“We want everyone who hears Tom’s story to know that he lived his life believing in redemption, in the ability of the human heart to be changed. He would want justice certainly but moreover he’d want forgiveness. Our family prays for the family of the man who took Tom’s life and we will pray for forgiveness in our own hearts and our own peace,” said Lisa Clements, a psychologist who oversees Colorado’s state mental health institutes.
Hickenlooper, who hired Clements about two years ago, told mourners that Clements was both pragmatic and principled.
“He had common sense and he had courage,” Hickenlooper said.
Evan Spencer Ebel, a man recently paroled in Colorado and killed in a gunfight with Texas authorities Thursday, is a suspect in Clements’ death.
Colorado authorities say evidence gathered in Texas provided a strong lead in the case but stressed investigators had not yet confirmed a link between the crime and Ebel.
Authorities say the car Ebel had in Texas was similar to one seen not far from Clements’ home the night he was killed, and bullets Ebel fired at Texas police were the same caliber and brand as the bullet or bullets that killed Clements. Ballistics tests are due sometime this week.
VIDEO: Watch The Memorial Service
It remained unclear whether the 58-year-old was targeted when he was shot and why.
A federal law enforcement official said Ebel had been a member of the 211s, a white supremacist prison gang in Colorado. El Paso County sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Jeff Kramer said Monday that investigators are trying to determine whether there was any gang involvement in the killing, but he stressed that’s only one aspect of a broad investigation.
Denver police say Ebel is also a suspect in the March 17 slaying of pizza delivery man Nathan Leon.
Hickenlooper is a longtime friend of the suspect’s father, attorney Jack Ebel, who testified two years ago before state lawmakers that solitary confinement was destroying his son’s psyche.
Hickenlooper confirmed he mentioned the case to Clements as an example of why the prison system needed reform before the job was offered, but the governor said he did not mention Evan Ebel by name.
There was no indication that Hickenlooper’s relationship with Jack Ebel played a role in the shooting. Hickenlooper said he did not having any role in Evan Ebel’s parole in January.
Jack Ebel issued a statement offering condolences to all those who have suffered from his son’s actions.
Clements, born in St. Louis, worked for 31 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections, both in prison and as a parole officer, before taking the top corrections’ job in Colorado just over two years ago. He began a review of the state’s solitary confinement system and eventually reduced the number of prisoners being held in solitary. He closed a new prison built specifically to hold such prisoners – Colorado State Penitentiary II.
His work won praise from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the union representing prison workers, which called him a “leader who looked out for those he led.”
Officials took additional security measures after Clements’ death and placed the state prisons on lockdown Friday.
Following Clements’ killing, corrections professionals said their jobs have grown more dangerous for themselves and their families because of the growing influence of prison gangs, their ability to communicate with affiliates on the outside through smuggled cellphones and the ease with which people can be found and tracked online.
Clements is at least the second head of a state prison system to be killed. The top administrator of the Oregon Department of Corrections, Michael Francke, was stabbed to death outside his office in 1989 in what prosecutors described as a bungled car burglary. A former state prison inmate was found guilty of aggravated murder in 1991 and sentenced to life in prison.
– By P. Solomon Banda, AP Writer
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