A life of violent threats

Women close to man shot by police retrace a history of rocky relationships

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2007

The women in Randall Clevenger's life said they are not surprised he was killed by a police officer, or that his death came after a violent outburst.

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"I knew at some point it would happen," said Rebecca Clevenger of Brainard, Mo. She was married to Randall Clevenger for 17 years.

She and another friend of Clevenger's think the 40-year-old Juneau man committed suicide when he threatened police Sgt. Paul Hatch on Friday, Aug. 10, with a 4-foot-long sword at Thunder Mountain Mobile Park. But they wonder if police had to shoot him.

"He made a lot of threats, but didn't hurt anyone," said Beki Kruger, Clevenger's cousin who lives in Kansas City, Mo.

Clevenger spent eight years serving in the U.S. Army and came to Juneau in 2001, working most recently in the Fred Meyer delicatessen. He had a history of rocky relationships, threats to women and calls for protective orders against him.

Kruger said her cousin was a quiet man who didn't yell before serving in the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War. He came back a different man, though he never faced combat.

"He sat around cleaning guns and sharpening knives," she said. "That's where the obsession came from."

Randall Clevenger told her that the war had changed him.

"He came back agitated and violent," Kruger said.

Within months after returning from the war, he lost his newborn daughter. His ex-wife would not comment on the cause of the infant's death.

His ex-wife said Clevenger lost his potential after the war and years of drugs and alcohol.

Pivotal night

On Aug. 10, Clevenger's anger peaked as he and ex-girlfriend Werna Biggler fought over a lost phone number. Police and witnesses say alcohol was involved.

Clevenger wanted to call his children, then living out of state with his ex-wife. The Clevengers were locked in a custody battle and both sons' birthdays were coming. Clevenger couldn't find the phone number and thought Biggler erased it.

Biggler did not take the argument seriously at first, said Tina Doak, who was at Clevenger and Biggler's home at the time. They still lived together, though they had broken up.

Biggler made a sarcastic comment that intensified the argument. Doak and Biggler left the house to escape his growing anger.

Clevenger caught up with the pair and held Biggler by the throat, knife to her belly, Doak said.

"He told me, 'I'm going to kill her. I'm going to kill myself,'" she said.

Someone in a passing car called 911 as the domestic argument unfolded on Thunder Mountain Road.

Doak said Clevenger had been upset since Biggler broke off their short, intense and rocky relationship. Doak said Clevenger's worst fear was being alone.

"His wife left him, Werna left him, and his kids are gone," she said.

The hurt and stress pushed Clevenger past his limit, Doak said. She said Clevenger was expressing himself with the folding knife.

"He was just trying to say, 'You hurt my feelings,'" she said.

Violent history

Clevenger's threats to harm or kill that day were not his first.

In 1995 Clevenger threatened to cut his wife's throat with a sword if she ever left him. He also threatened to kill himself.

In 1999 he assaulted an officer and had a knife collection confiscated while living in Missouri, Rebecca Clevenger said.

While divorcing him seven years later, she filed a restraining order for threats to take her life and take their children. She said he had hit one child with a rifle stock and smoked marijuana with both. One night while drunk he waved a gun in her face.

"He violated every protection order I every had," she said.

In November 2006, when arguing with his wife over their divorce, he threatened to take on all of the Juneau Police Department, according to court records.

In May of this year a neighbor also filed for a protection order, saying Clevenger threatened her and her children. He claimed she was spreading rumors and hurting his chances of finding work or a place to live.

The magistrate denied the order.

A judge also denied a long-term restraining order Rebecca Clevenger requested in November 2006.

"All he had to do was deny (his threats), and say he loved the kids," she said.

Obtaining a long-term protective order is complicated, said Ellen Naughter, victim advocate with the AWARE women and children's shelter.

"It takes a lot of information," Naughter said. "It's never that simple with domestic violence."

In all, six protective orders - three 20-day orders, three six-month orders - were filed for in Juneau by two women against Clevenger. The three short-term orders and one long-term one were granted.

Other options?

A three-day internal police investigation determined Sgt. Hatch was justified in shooting Clevenger, and he returned to full duty Friday.

Clevenger's friends and family think the confrontation with police didn't need to happen the way it did.

"I don't think it was right. He could have shot him in the leg," Clevenger's most recent girlfriend Biggler said.

Police are trained to shoot in the breastbone, or what Police Chief Greg Browning called "center mass."

Clevenger was shot three times with a .40-calibur handgun at about five feet, police said.

"Why three shots?" his friend Doak asked. "One would be deadly. Three just sealed his fate."

Police Chief Greg Browning said officers are trained in a shooting method called "double-tap." An officer pulls the trigger twice quickly, firing two rounds that hit a suspect in tight proximity nearly simultaneously. He said that Juneau police shoot to stop, not to kill.

"Maybe one would have stopped him," Browning said.

Doak also believes Clevenger should have been allowed to further calm down. She said Clevenger gave her the knife and left before the police arrived. Police found him near the trailer park at the end of Valley Boulevard.

"He was starting to come down," Doak said.

Biggler agreed.

"He wouldn't hurt anyone," Biggler said. "All he did was love me so much."

Chief Browning said that Clevenger had to be found that night because Alaska law requires police to make an arrest when they respond to domestic calls. "We had an obligation to find him," Browning said.

Rebecca Clevenger thinks there was another option: Had he been arrested last January for violating a protection order, he would have been forced to get help in anger management and for substance abuse.

She said she asked her husband to get professional help for years. She said he was depressed and paranoid and saw everything as a conspiracy.

"He said everyone else was messed up, that he was fine," she said.

She said the Juneau police responded to domestic calls in the past without arresting Randall Clevenger. They knew where he worked, but could never find him, she said.

"He always ran."

In January 2007, he came to her home, violating a restraining order, and called her 15 to 30 times a day. She called the police and reported his violations.

Chief Browning said that police couldn't find Randall Clevenger that night and forwarded the case to the city for prosecution.

Rebecca Clevenger quit her job, took the children and left Juneau in a hurry. With the victim gone, there was no witness and no case.

The city dropped the case because it did not have an available witness, he said.

Naughter of the AWARE shelter said an arrest doesn't necessarily lead to the results Rebecca Clevenger hoped for.

People should not lift the blame from the person doling out abuse and place it on a public safety system, Naughter said.

In 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a suit stemming from a similar domestic dispute in Colorado. A divorced father violated a protective order and kidnapped and killed his children. Then he killed himself in "suicide-by-cop" gun battle. Police had a chance to arrest the father previously, but did not. The ex-wife sued the police for failing to arrest her husband, which could have prevented his death.

In a 7-2 decision, the court ruled that the local police force could not be sued for failing to enforce a state restraining order.

Doak and Rebecca Clevenger think Randall Clevenger was trying to take his own life.

Doak said Clevenger was never trying to hurt Hatch; he was trying to get the cop to react.

"It had nothing to do with the cop," she said. Clevenger couldn't handle being dumped again and didn't see another outcome.

Rebecca Clevenger said the more she thinks about what happened on Aug. 10, the more she thinks her ex-husband killed himself.

"I would not put it past him."

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