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May 13, 1998

GUNMAN KILLS TC OFFICER

Gunshots shatter the tranquility of a residential neighborhood

WEDNESDAY UPDATE

   John Charles Clark, 48, was arrested by an emergency response team of the Michigan State Police at 12:45 a.m. today.

Sgt. Dennis Finch
   Clark was lying prone on the floor inside front door of his Wellington Street home when officers approached the house in an armored vehicle. Earlier in the evening, Clark had exchanged gunfire with police.
   Struck by Clark’s fire was Sgt. Dennis Finch of the Traverse City Police Department.
   Finch died at 10:30 a.m. today, Munson Medical Center spokesman Tom Spencer said.
   Clark, who was hit by two police bullets, remained hospitalized. He had not yet been charged this morning.
By RICH WERTZ and BILL O'BRIEN
Record-Eagle staff writers
     
      TRAVERSE CITY - State police had a Wellington Street home surrounded late Tuesday night after a man who lived there sprayed semi-automatic fire at a Traverse City police officer.
      After seven hours of a tense standoff, gunshots were heard again shortly before midnight but there was no indication who had fired them.
Photo by John L. Russell
Sgt. Dennis Finch receives medical attention shortly after he was shot Tuesday afternoon.
      Sgt. Dennis Finch was being treated at Munson Medical Center late Tuesday after he was struck by multiple bullets shortly after 4 p.m.
      The officer suffered multiple gunshot wounds and was in critical, but stable condition after surgery, Grand Traverse Undersheriff Joseph Smith said late Tuesday.
      "The officer was trying to talk to him, get him to calm down and get things under control and suddenly there was a breakout of shots," Smith said.
Photo by Christina N. Bowles
Traverse City police officers escort an elderly woman from the carriage house next to the home of the suspect, while he continues to hold police at bay Tuesday afternoon.
      Police later identified the man as John Clark, a resident of the Victorian home at the corner of Wellington and Washington streets.
      Clark, described by neighbors as a disturbed man who believed the Mafia was after him, could be heard shouting to police after the shooting, and there was another round of gunfire about 20 minutes after the first round.
      Police blocked off several city blocks and set up huge banks of lights outside the house as night fell. Over a bullhorn, they warned any residents who remained in the area to take cover in their basements.
      The shooting followed reports of an armed man in the neighborhood. Shortly before 3 p.m., Finch was standing in the yard of the home talking to an agitated Clark.
Graphic by Bryan Laviolette
      Later Tuesday, police said they believe that Clark may have been wounded in the exchange of fire.
      "We have indication he may have been" shot, said Sgt. Robert Woods of the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Department.
      As police began securing the area, Clark's voice could be heard rising and falling and he could be seen occasionally waving his arms. Police said he had a handgun and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with him on the porch, although there were times when his hands were empty.
      Shortly after 4 p.m., Clark moved from the end of the porch to the center, in the area of the front entrance to the home. Finch walked toward that end of the lawn, and the conversation continued.

Neighbors say suspect was quiet and paranoid

By BILL O'BRIEN
Record-Eagle staff writer

      TRAVERSE CITY - People who dealt with John Clark of Traverse City describe him as a paranoid man who felt he was always in danger.
      "I knew him as a probationer that was always paranoid, that somebody was after him," said Tom Willson of Traverse City, a probation officer with the 86th District Court. "He would call me and say 'Tom, they're after me ... the Mafia just drove by.'­"
      Clark, 48, was arrested several years ago in Leelanau County for spray-painting the entrance drive of an exclusive neighborhood on West Grand Traverse Bay with graffiti relating to the Mafia.
      But even Willson was surprised when he learned Clark's house on Wellington Street was the center of a standoff after a police officer was shot there Tuesday afternoon.
      "There were no harassing phone calls, nothing in his background to say he was a violent person. But definitely a paranoid person," Willson said.
      Ellie Kortokrax, of 515 Webster St., has been a neighbor and acquaintance of Clark nearly all her life. They graduated from Traverse City High School together in 1968.
      She watched from her back porch Tuesday afternoon as Clark shouted back and forth with police officers, followed quickly by an eruption of gun shots just after 4 p.m.
      "I heard the first exchange of gunfire," she said, and a few minutes later watched as police pulled a wounded officer off the porch. "You could see them dragging a body," she said.
      Kortokrax knew Clark better than most of the neighbors. "He's been part of this neighborhood for a long time," she said. "I'm sorry about the whole thing. But I'm not surprised ... John has never been right ever since high school."
      Clark's late father, John Clark Sr., was a successful real estate man in Traverse City. Neighbors say he left his family several rental homes around the town that they used for income, and that Clark was a caretaker for some of the homes.
      Cathy Hamilton lives along State Street across an alley from Clark's large home.
      "We wave, we don't really don't talk," she said.
      Other neighbors describe Clark as largely a recluse, although he was much more noticeable in his yard and around his home in recent days.
      "Recently he's been talking to people - nothing that was frightening," said neighbor Nancy Pihlcrantz who lives along State Street.
      Retired 86th District Court judge Richard L. Benedict, who lives a few blocks from Clark's home, knew Clark from both in court and in the neighborhood.
      "I've dealt with him before," the retired judge said. "He's always been this way. He's always believed the Mafia was after him."
      Commissioner Phill Orth recalled that Clark had come to a city commission meeting a couple of years ago and complained that local police and prosecutors were involved somehow with organized crime.


      Suddenly Finch drew his service weapon and sprinted toward the porch. Gunfire erupted, booming through the tree-lined neighborhood as police rushed across the lawn. The gunfire erupted again and again.
      When it was over, Finch lay bleeding on the porch. Other officers began calling to Clark.
      "John, let us get our guy off the porch," one called. "Come on John, he's dying out there."
      At 4:30 p.m. Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Deputy Todd Heller, who had been crouched below the porch, climbed up and dragged Finch down the stairs. Another officer helped him drag the fallen officer across the street, and he was rushed away in an ambulance.
      Five minutes later, more gunshots rang out from inside the house in separate bursts of perhaps a dozen rounds each.
      "Get away from the house!" a man shouted from inside. "I didn't ask you guys to come down here."
      As police continued to shout at him, the voice from inside said: "He put a gun in my face and came in after me."
      By 8 p.m., police had cleared the immediate neighborhood and any further contact between the occupant of the house and police could not be overheard by the public.
      Small crowds gathered at the edges of the police barriers. Many of the residents of the neighborhood said they knew of Clark but were not friends. Some said he lived in the house with his mother. Police said there are also rental apartments in the house.
      Clark frequently told people he had a large collection of guns in his home, neighbors said. Lynne Moon, a real estate agent contacted by telephone, said Clark had once shown her a basement room full of guns. She wasn't sure what kind they were, except that they were long guns and there were a lot of them, she said.
      "I just got the goosebumps and wanted to get out of there," she said.
      County Commissioner Jason Allen, a resident of the neighborhood, said he knocked on Clark's door two to three years ago to discuss some problem tenants at a nearby rental home owned by the Clark family.
      Clark told Allen he had a weapon just inside the front door.
      "He was quite open about that weapon ... and that he had a deep distrust of local government," Allen said. "He believed that the Mafia was running Traverse City and he found out about it so they were after him."
      Others heard similar talk Tuesday. Mike Henderson was hooking up a natural gas line to a home on State Street about 10 a.m. when he was approached by Clark, who was wearing a large handgun strapped in a holster.
      "He came up to me and started talking about the Mafia - that the Mafia was giving him a hard time," said Henderson, 34, of Traverse City. "He had a large sidearm on. I was nervous ... He said, 'The cops are the Mafia. Don't make any mistake about that.'"
      Henderson said Clark was raking in his yard in the morning with a large pistol strapped to his body. Crews from Subsurface Construction Co. from Comstock Park and MichCon continued working on the gas line through the morning.
      Another member of the crew, John Waltz of Kalkaska, overheard Clark talking to his co-worker.
      "I heard him talk about (the Mafia). I didn't think too much of it ... I didn't think there was going to be a shootout later."
      When the gas workers returned from lunch around 12:30 p.m., they heard Clark yelling back and forth with police officers who had arrived on the scene. The crew kept working in the alley while police continued talking with Clark.
      "They talked to him for a long time," Henderson said.
     

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