Tom Clements, Department of Corrections chief, murdered at home: Assassination?
The crime bears all the marks of an assassination: A political appointee with a high-profile position overseeing the state's prison system answers his door one night and is immediately shot in the chest by an unknown assailant.
We have no confirmation at this writing that the attack was carefully planned rather than random. But we know that Tom Clements, Colorado's Department of Corrections executive director, is dead, and police statewide are moving quickly in an effort to capture the person behind the gun. Details, photos and video below.
In February 2011, our Alan Prendergast provided us with the basics about the corrections boss in a post entitled, "Tom Clements, new Colorado prison chief: Can he bust out of the state's revolving door?" Here's an excerpt:
A 31-year veteran of the corrections system in Missouri, [Clements] started out as a parole officer in St. Louis and has great familiarity with what are now known in the business as "re-entry issues." Years ago, as a top official overseeing Missouri's 30,500 offenders, he supported an effort to shift in that state from hard-line, lock-em-up management to a greater emphasis on work, substance abuse treatment, and incentive programs designed to prepare inmates for life back in society. The approach was known as "Parallel Universe" -- the premise being that prison shouldn't be about totally controlling felons (and allowing them to sit around on their asses), but should more closely resemble a real-world regimen of work, earned awards and accountability.
As Predergast pointed out, data proving or disproving the effectiveness of this approach was wanting -- but "Clements is now in a position to bring such ideas to wider circulation in Colorado's cells, while bringing a fresh perspective to a prison system that badly needs one."
Tom Clements with Governor John Hickenlooper at a hearing about the closing of Fort Lyon Correctional Facility.
In the two years or so since then, Clements has taken part in some bold efforts, including the proposed shutdown of Fort Lyon Correctional Facility, which Predergast described in another February 2011 post as "a geriatric hoosegow on the eastern plains that was supposed to be a bargain and turned into a money pit and a health hazard." Prisoners were reportedly moved out of Fort Lyon in March 2012.
Earlier this year, Clements made news again when he denied the clemency application of Darrell Havens, a paralyzed inmate in need for surgery. But in general, Prendergast tells us, he was widely viewed as a reformer, not a man bent on harsh systemic crackdowns.
Clements lived on Colonial Park Drive in Monument.
Not that his every move was followed closely in the press. Indeed, Clements was hardly a constant presence in the headlines when the following tweet was sent out last night by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office about an address in Monument:
Sheriffs Office investigating a shooting in the 17400 block of Colonial Park Dr.One adult male deceased. No known suspect description
— EPCSheriff (@EPCSheriff) March 20, 2013
According to CBS4. Clements was shot around 8:30 p.m. last night after opening his front door.
From the crime scene last night.
After Clements was shot, another resident of the home phoned 911. Clements, 58, was married, with two daughters. We offer our condolences to them, as well as to his family, friends and loved ones.
So, too, does Governor John Hickenlooper, who has released the following statement about Clements:
To: Employees of the Department of Corrections
Last night, Tom Clements was killed at his home in Monument. I can hardly believe it, let alone write words to describe it.
As your Executive Director, he helped change and improve DOC in two years more than most people could do in eight years. He was unfailingly kind and thoughtful, and sought the "good" in any situation. As you all know, in corrections that is not easy.
We have no more details than that. I am so sad. I have never worked with a better person than Tom, and I can't imagine our team without him.
Tom regularly spoke of your professionalism and dedication to the department. It is during times like this that we must stand together to meet the Department's public safety mission and to honor Tom's memory.
I know that you all join me in sending prayers and support to Tom's wife, Lisa, their two daughters and their family. For the next few days, please allow them to grieve with their family in private.
With all our heart,
Hickenlooper also ordered that all flags in the state fly at half-mast today in his memory.
Thus far, no suspect information has been released -- but investigators, assisted by K9 units, are on the scene at Clements's home, sweeping the area for any clues that might lead to the perpetrator.
Look below to see a 9News report about the death of Tom Clements, followed by clips of Clements inviting citizens to take part in an event earlier this year and a hearing about Fort Lyon featuring Hickenlooper. Also on view is an interactive graphic of the area near the crime scene. If you have problems seeing the image, click "View Larger Map."
View Larger Map
More from our News archive: "Tom Clements, new Colorado prison chief: Can he bust out of the state's revolving door?"
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.