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Dean Williams might remind you of someone — murdered prison chief Tom Clements 

click to enlarge Clements was killed on his doorstep in 2013.
  • Clements was killed on his doorstep in 2013.

Those who follow criminal justice news might feel a pang of familiarity when reading the interview with Colorado’s progressive new prison chief, Dean Williams. Tom Clements, who held the post from 2010 until his death in 2013, held similar views on the need for humanity in the prison system.

Back on March 19, 2013, Clements answered his front door in Monument to what looked like a pizza delivery man. Evan Ebel, a member of white supremacist group 211 Crew, was disguised in the uniform of Nathan Leon, a Denver father of three whom Ebel had murdered days earlier.

Ebel shot and killed Clements on his doorstep.

The assassination — by a recently released inmate who went on to die in a high-speed chase with Texas law enforcement days later — left leaders across the state in shock. Clements was no hardliner; he was known for reforms like limiting solitary confinement of prisoners, adding programs to prevent recidivism, and addressing mental health needs. Charming and well-liked, Clements was praised by former prisoners and public officials alike.

Then-Gov. John Hickenlooper, who had recruited Clements from the Missouri Department of Corrections, said of him, “Tom Clements was someone who worked in a cold, dark world with a remarkably open and generous heart.”

Rick Raemisch succeeded Clements, and ended the use of long-term solitary confinement. Notably, Ebel had spent a lengthy period in solitary. (Raemisch, whom Gov. Jared Polis replaced with his own cabinet pick, Williams, in November, also faced allegations of ordering the dumping of truckloads of electronic waste in violation of environmental laws.)

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office was charged with investigating the Clements murder. But in the ensuing years, many critics have accused the department of failing to invest adequate resources, ignoring crucial facts, or even of abandoning the case. Sheriff Bill Elder has said in the past that he believes Ebel acted alone, and he closed the case in 2016, only to reopen it when Hickenlooper objected.

The Denver Post has delved into the investigation, revealing that many — from prison gang members to former Colorado law enforcement officers to Texas Rangers — believe Clements’ murder was ordered by a 211 Crew gang general. Ebel had a hit list, and phone records show he was in touch with 211 Crew members before and after the Clements murder and in the minutes before Ebel died.

Former El Paso County Sheriff’s Investigator Juan San Agustin Jr. made startling allegations about the investigation in a 2018 lawsuit against Elder, Fourth Judicial District Attorney Dan May, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler and others. The suit alleged malicious prosecution — San Agustin was charged along with former Sheriff Terry Maketa and former Undersheriff Paula Presley regarding official actions, but two juries failed to convict Maketa and charges were dropped against Presley and San Agustin.

San Agustin alleged that the department, which he left in 2014, improperly abandoned the Clements case despite his insistence that there were co-conspirators. He further alleged that the 211 Crew carried out a hit on Dan May in 2008, but got the wrong man — killing Sean May in a Denver alley.

Alarmingly, San Agustin further alleged that unspecified “law enforcement” received a 2013 letter that Clements’ life was in danger and that no action was taken to protect him.

The San Agustin case is pending. The Clements murder investigation remains open. 

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