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Colorado officials tighten security after killing of state prisons chief

Investigators don’t know if the shooting death of top warden Tom Clements was work-related but are urging caution. Attacks on senior law enforcement officials in the US are on the rise.

Colorado authorities are following numerous leads but have not identified a suspect in the shooting of Tom Clements, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, officials said Wednesday.

Mr. Clements, known for his advocacy of prison reform, died Tuesday night after he was shot while answering the door of his Monument, Colo., home. He came to Colorado in 2011 after working 30 years in the Missouri prison system. Investigators are not ruling out any motives in the attack, including whether it was work-related.

“Because of the fact Mr. Clements served in the position he did, we’re sensitive to the fact there could be any number of people who have a motive,” said Lt. Jeff Kramer, a spokesman for the El Paso County Sheriff’s office, at a news conference Wednesday.

State law enforcement agencies are increasing security at the state Capitol and adding staff to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s security detail, in case the killer intended to target public officials.

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“We have a responsibility to protect the governor and his family,” Capt. Jeff Goodwin, spokesman for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, told The Denver Post. “Other people at the Capitol benefit from that increased security, as well.”

Clements is the second known state prisons chief to be killed in office, the Associated Press reported. The other incident occurred in 1989 when Michael Francke, director of the Oregon corrections department, was killed during a car burglary. The suspect, a former Oregon prison inmate, was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in 1991.

There is no central database of attacks on legal officials and senior law enforcement executives like Clements, but Glenn McGovern, an investigator with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office in California, tracks such incidents worldwide.

The number of similar attacks on officials is small, though they have been increasing in the US in recent years, Mr. McGovern told the Associated Press.

In the past three years, there have been at least 35 similar incidents – as many as occurred during the entire previous decade. Searching media accounts and court cases back to 1950, he has documented 133 cases including 41 killings of judges, prosecutors, and other justice and top police officials.

Revenge is usually the motive, McGovern said, and attacks usually come with little warning.

“Corrections is inherently a dangerous business,” Alison Morgan, Colorado Department of Corrections assistant director of finance and administration, told the Denver Post Wednesday. She would not say if Clements had received death threats or whether the DOC had provided personal security for him.

McGovern said it would have been simple to find Clements’s house using an Internet locator service. He tells prosecutors to assume potential attackers can find their home address and to evaluate their home security.

“[Attacks are] often taking place away from the office, which makes sense, because everyone’s hardening up their facilities,” he said.

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Although attacks on legal officials are rare, officials are vulnerable outside of protected offices and courthouses, Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, told the Associated Press. His organization counts 11 prosecutors who have been slain in the past 50 years.

“If someone wants to truly harm or kill them … [there’s] not a lot we can do,” Mr. Burns said.

In Colorado, the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s office is advising prosecutors to take increased safety measures as a result of Clements’s death, especially those who worked on a case involving Homaidan al-Turki, a Saudi national serving a Colorado prison sentence of eight years to life for extortion and sexual abuse of his housekeeper. Last week, Clements denied Mr. Turki’s request to serve the remainder of his sentence in Saudi Arabia. 

Officials did not say whether investigators are looking at Turki’s situation as possible motive for Clements’s death, but Mike Knight, chief investigator for the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s office told The Denver Post that out “of an abundance of caution for the attorneys who worked on those cases, we wanted to make sure that they take precautions.”

Law enforcement officials are tracking two leads in the case. They are searching for a woman who was seen speed walking near Clements’s home around the time of the shooting. Also, they are looking for a Lincoln or Cadillac that was spotted outside the home during the same time frame.