Shell casings may tie Texas shootout to Colo death
DECATUR, Texas (AP) — Shell casings from a Texas shootout with a white supremacist Colorado parolee are the same make and caliber as those found at the home of Colorado’s prison chief after he was killed, according to legal papers.
It’s the closest link yet between Evan Spencer Ebel — who died in the shootout — and the slaying of Tom Clements, who was shot and killed when he opened his door Tuesday evening.
Authorities also say they found a Domino’s pizza bag and a jacket or shirt in the trunk of the car Ebel was driving when Texas deputies tried to pull him over — a link to another slaying, that of a pizza deliveryman whose body was found Sunday.
In a case that’s been confusing in how the suspect is connected to each crime, the search warrant documents released Friday in Texas brought some clarity.
Ebel, 28, is a Colorado parolee with a long record of convictions since 2003 for various crimes including assaulting a prison guard in 2008. He was a member of a white supremacist prison gang called the 211s, a federal law enforcement official told The Associated Press. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the case and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Colorado officials would not confirm Ebel’s gang ties or say whether they had anything to do with the death of prisons director Tom Clements. But they locked down prisons Friday for the second time since Clements’ slaying without giving a reason, and said state troopers are providing extra security for Colorado government officials.
“We are at a heightened alert,” said Steve Johnson of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation at a Friday news conference.
Denver police said they were “confident” Ebel was involved in the death of Nathan Leon, 27, the pizza man whose body was found Sunday.
They’ve been less forthcoming about his link to Clements’ death, aside from saying the car Ebel was driving during the shootout in Texas is similar to one seen at Clements’ home the night of the shooting.
Ebel fired at Texas authorities who tried to stop him Thursday. The .9 mm Hornady casings found after the Texas shootout match those found at Clement’s house, Texas Ranger Anthony Bradford wrote in the application for a search warrant.
Authorities said they were running ballistics tests to see if they could conclusively link the gun Ebel used in Texas with the one that killed Clements.
The FBI and local officials were also beginning to examine another case that appears similar to the Clements killing — the Jan. 31 slaying of a prosecutor in Kaufman — about 100 miles from where Ebel crashed and got into the shootout. Mark Hasse was gunned down as he walked across a parking lot to the courthouse.
Authorities have investigated whether Hasse’s death could be linked to a white supremacist gang. On Friday they said they will see if there is any connection to Clements’ murder.
“This is part of routine investigative work when two crimes occur under somewhat similar circumstances,” Kaufman Police Chief Chris Aulbaugh said in a statement on the look at any links with the Clements case.
Ebel’s tie to Clements’ killing comes from the car he drove — a black Cadillac with mismatched Colorado plates that fit the description of a vehicle spotted outside Clements’ home just before the prison chief answered his front door and was shot to death.
Texas authorities spotted the car Thursday and gave chase after Ebel shot and wounded a deputy. They fatally shot him after he crashed into a semi and opened fire on his pursuers.
Ebel is not on the radar of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, but the center rates the gang as one of the most vicious white supremacist groups operating in the nation’s prisons, comparable to the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. Founded in 1995 to protect white prisoners from attacks, it operates only in Colorado and has anywhere from between a couple hundred to 1,000 members, senior fellow Mark Potok said Friday.
The gang has grown into a sophisticated criminal enterprise where members are assigned military titles like “general” and extort money from fellow prisoners, regardless of race. Released members are expected to make money to support those still in prison, Potok said. He said members have to attack someone to get in and can only get out by dying.
“It’s blood in and blood out,” he said.
In 2005, 32 members were indicted for racketeering and the gang’s founder, Benjamin Davis, was sentenced to over 100 years in prison.
The killing of Clements, 58, shocked his quiet neighborhood in Monument, a town of rolling hills north of Colorado Springs, for its brutality: He answered the door of his home Tuesday evening and was gunned down. Authorities wouldn’t say if they thought the attack was related to his job, and all Clements’ recent public activities and cases were scrutinized.
The Texas car chase started when a sheriff’s deputy in Montague County, James Boyd, tried to pull over the Cadillac around 11 a.m. Thursday, authorities there said. They wouldn’t say exactly why he was stopped, but called it routine.
Ebel opened fire on Boyd, wounding him, Wise County Sheriff David Walker. Ebel then fled south before crashing into a semi as he tried to elude his pursuers.
After the crash, Ebel he got out of the vehicle, shooting at deputies and troopers who had joined the chase. He shot at Decatur Police Chief Rex Hoskins four times as the chief tried to set up a roadblock.
“He wasn’t planning on being taken alive,” Hoskins said.
Boyd, the deputy who was shot, was wearing a bulletproof vest and was at a Fort Worth hospital, authorities said. Officials Friday said he was able to sit up and appeared to be recovering.
Legal records show Ebel was convicted of several crimes in Colorado dating back to 2003, including assaulting a prison guard in 2008. He apparently was paroled, but Colorado Department of Corrections spokeswoman Alison Morgan said she could not release information on prisoners because of the ongoing investigation into Clements’ death.
Scott Robinson, a criminal defense attorney and media legal analyst, represented Ebel in 2003 and 2004. He said Ebel had been sentenced to a halfway house for a robbery charge in 2003 before he was accused in two additional robbery cases the following year that garnered prison sentences of three and eight years.
“I thought he was a young man who was redeemable, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the case,” Robinson said, saying he didn’t recall the details of the case.
Robinson said he knew Ebel before he got in trouble. He said Ebel was raised by a single father and had a younger sister who died in a car accident years ago.
Vicky Bankey said Ebel was in his teens when she lived across from him in suburban Denver until his father moved a couple of years ago. She remembers seeing Ebel once jump off the roof of his house. “He was a handful. I’d see him do some pretty crazy things,” she said.
“He had a hair-trigger temper as a kid. But his dad was so nice,” Bankey said.
Ebel’s father didn’t return multiple phone calls.
Clements came to Colorado in 2011 after working three decades in the Missouri prison system. Missouri Department of Corrections spokeswoman Mandi Steele said Thursday the department was ready to help in the probe if asked.
The last public official killed in Colorado in the past 10 years was Sean May, a prosecutor in suburban Denver. An assailant killed May as he arrived home from work. Investigators examined May’s court cases, but the case remains unsolved.
Banda reported from Denver. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Nicholas Riccardi, Colleen Slevin and Ivan Moreno in Denver, and Jordan Shapiro in Jefferson City, Mo.