Hundreds honor slain Colorado prisons chief Tom Clements

The state of Colorado holds a public memorial for its prison chief Tom Clements, who was shot and killed at his home. Rick Sallinger of Denver's CBS-4 looks at what may have sparked the killing.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. Corrections' officials and guards from as far away as Morocco are among the hundreds of people on Monday honoring the Colorado prisons' chief killed last week while answering his front door.

Tom Clements
Tom Clements
YouTube via KCNC-TV

Those honoring Tom Clements at a memorial service at New Life Church include 39 current and former corrections' chiefs as well as guards from 14 states. A delegation of corrections officials from Morocco was also attending, along with dignitaries including Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Attorney John Walsh.

Matt Heard, senior pastor at Woodman Valley Chapel, said Clements was a man of worthy of honor in both life and death.

"We could not be more grateful for a life well lived," he said.

Evan Spencer Ebel, a man recently paroled in Colorado and killed in a gunfight with Texas authorities Thursday, is a suspect.

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.

It remained unclear whether the 58-year-old, who worked to reduce the use of solitary confinement in Colorado's prisons, was targeted when he was shot and why.

Hickenlooper, who hired Clements, told mourners that Clements believed anyone could be redeemed and was both pragmatic and principled.

"He had common sense and he had courage," Hickenlooper said.

A private funeral was held for Clements Sunday. He is survived by a wife, Lisa Clements, a psychologist who oversees Colorado's state mental health institutes, and two daughters.

This undated photo released by the Colorado Department of Corrections shows paroled inmate Evan Spencer Ebel.
AP Photo/Colorado Department of Corrections

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 the 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 worked for 31 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections, both in prisons as well as probation and parole services, 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.

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