Friday, November 13, 2009

Monfort Paralyzed by Shooting, Prepared to Kill as Many Police Officers as Possible

Accused murderer Christopher John Monfort is paralyzed below the waist, according to a statement from his family released by his designated counsel, Julie Lawry.  "Chris Monfort's family, like any other family in the same position, is heartbroken for all parties and is struggling to understand this tragedy.  At the same time they love and stand by Chris and look forward to coming to a fuller understanding of recent events."

Monfort’s condition has been upgraded to satisfactory.  He remains at Harborview Medical Center under guard by King County Sherriff’s Deputies.  Monfort was wounded when he was approached by Seattle Police Department homicide detectives.  The detectives were present to follow up on a tip (now attributed to the apartment complex manager)  that a rare early eighties Datsun B210 was parked in Monfort’s apartment building lot, and that it had been covered for the first time just after the murder of Seattle Police Officer Tim Brenton. 

When Monfort left his apartment (just as the memorial service for Officer Brenton was concluding) he approached the Datsun and his main car which was parked next to it.  Monfort’s usual car is a black Crown Victoria, probably a former police unmarked car.  Detective identified themselves and said they had a few questions.  At that, Monfort drew a Glock nine millimeter pistol, pointed the muzzle directly into the face of Detective Sergeant Gary Nelson and pulled the trigger.  Monfort had sixteen rounds in the clip for the Glock – the magazine was full - but he had not drawn back, or ‘racked’ the slide mechanism on the weapon.  Thus, there was not round in the chamber and the firing pin simply made a small but emotionally deafening clicking sound.  When the gun did not discharge, Monfort ran to a stairwell and tried to reach his apartment.  He was blocked before he could reach it and when he turned and brought the pistol up again three detectives fired.  One shot hit Monfort in the cheek, another in the torso. 

Monfort was pulled into the parking lot by detectives and an ambulance arrived very quickly to take the man to Harborview, the city’s trauma hospital.   Reporters who had arrived at the Emergency entrance to Harborview reported that there was a very large volume of blood – an unusual quantity according to several.  That observation concerning heavy blood loss, as well as the news helicopter live feed that I watched and commented on in an earlier post was the only information available until Acting Chief Diaz reached Harborview.  He also indicated at that time that the car found under a cover was indeed “the car” used in the attack.  We now know that the car carried a bullet fired by the courageous and composed beyond her years on the force Britt Sweeny.  Monfort was immediately rushed into surgery, where he underwent a very long surgery to repair damage caused by the two bullets that had hit him.  He was listed in critical condition and was not upgraded to serious condition until the following evening.  Monfort was upgraded today to satisfactory today. 

Police have read him his Miranda rights, and say he has not requested an attorney.  Assistant Chief Pugel, responsible for the Investigations bureau of the Seattle Police Department has stated that Monfort is not being interrogated at this time – in response to speculation by defense attorneys that SPD might be sequestering Monfort for the purpose of getting him to confess.  The Assistant Chief’s manner suggested to me that there was so much physical evidence already that a confession is not of great importance to securing a conviction in the case.  A recap of the evidence, as it is known now:

  • Datsun B210 matching the descriptions of witnesses  as well as the video of the car obtained from the dashboard camera in Officers Brenton and Sweeny’s unit and others responding to the shots fired radio call.  The Datsun was covered with a car tarp for the first time shortly after the Halloween shooting, and remained so in the space next to Monfort’s other car – a Crown Victoria which looks to be a retired unmarked police unit.
  • A bullet recovered from the Datsun B210, matched to Officer Britt Sweeny’s service weapon.
  • .223 rifle matched in ballistic testing with the rifle used to wound Officer Sweeny and kill Officer Brenton, found in Monfort’s apartment.
  • Improvised explosive devices and the materials to make fire bombs, found in Monfort’s apartment.  Included was a notebook listing the time it took various fuse lengths to burn down.  Monfort’s apartment was booby trapped to detonate fire bombs on entry, and SPD used a robot to make entry.  Police also found several other incendiary materials including a fine powder accelerant used to create explosive force when confined to a small area (like, say, a pipe) and ignited.
  • A long document expressing rage at police in general.  A copy has not been made available and police have offered no ‘on the record’ details'.  Some reports indicate the manifesto also threatened to attack officers, but I haven’t seen any confirmation of that.
  • DNA from:
    • a US flag left at the maintenance yard arson site;
    • a threatening letter left at the maintenance yard;
    • a Us flag bandana at the location of the shooting;
    • water bottle and cap left at the maintenance yard;
  • A copy of the letter left at the maintenance yard arson, decrying police brutality and threatening to kill officers, was found on Montfort’s printer, in his apartment when police entered.
  • Materials were found in Monfort’s apartment matching the improvised explosives used at the maintenance yard firebombing that damaged a mobile command unit and three squad cars, and only narrowly missed injuring or killing police and firefighters responding to the arson call.
  • Propane bottles matching the ones used in the fire bombing at the maintenance yard were found in Monfort’s apartment – some already assembled into an explosive device.
  • Witness testimony indicating that a Datsun matching the description of the car provided by police dash camera videos and Officer Sweeny had been seen following a police patrol car several times in the half hour prior to the shooting.
  • Witness testimony that this car – Monfort’s, as we have come to know because he hid the car, it contained a bullet from Officer Sweeny’s gun, etc. – had tailed Sweeny’s patrol car, stopped and reversed into a dark parking lot just behind the police vehicle.  He waited until the traffic stop was concluded, and then pulled alongside the police car and opened fire.  Witness also saw Monfort execute a 3point turn to avoid the dash cam (avoidance FAIL).  The appearance of the Datsun on Sweeny’s dash cam just fifteen minutes prior to the shooting corroborates the witness statement as well.
  • Video of a traffic stop just two blocks from the site of the shooting nine days prior to Halloween.  The video documents that Monfort had come to the attention of an SPD unit on routine patrol because he had been driving around the area slowly, looking back and forth.  The officers thought he many be lost, and when he failed to signal a turn he was stopped.  From the first sentence, where and officer asked Monfort if he knew where he was trying to go was met with a snappish remark in return.  The video tends to document Monfort’s state of anger at police, as well as indicating that he may have been cruising the neighborhood.  Perhaps he was planning his escape route to Tukwila or perhaps looking for areas where he noticed police cars present.  In the light of the events which followed, this video tends to augment the other evidence above.
  • A military style knife identical to one found at the maintenance yard was found in Monfort’s apartment.
  • Though it is not evidence, the profile police of the unknown suspect in the shooting, and published along with the dash videos of the suspect’s Datsun, matched the suspect identified the next day as a result of the manager’s tip so closely it is hard to believe that the profile author(s) did not already have a suspect and reverse-engineered a profile.  I’ve never seen one this accurate in such detail.
  • Monfort’s reaction when detectives approached him in the parking lot of his apartment building.  His response when the officers identified themselves and said they wanted to talk with him, was to draw a Glock, aim at a detective at close range and pull the trigger. Had Monfort remembered to charge the firing chamber when he loaded the magazine another officer would be injured or worse.  The reaction was immediate and showed no hesitation, and to me that says that Monfort was willing and ready to shoot an officer if he was approached.  He tried to run, and when hemmed in he reacted without hesitation and attempted to bring his pistol to bear again.  Flight has been treated as a consciousness of guilt in our justice system, and in this case it seems quite clear to me that Monfort’s first decision when police asked to speak with him was to attempt to kill a policeman – or God knows how many with sixteen rounds in one magazine before he’d need to reload.  His second reaction was to run, and when he was blocked from reaching his cache of weapons and explosive materials in his apartment, Monfort raised the Glock again.  Attempted murder, flight, attempt to shoot officer again adds up to a strong indicator of consciousness of guilt.
  • Monfort made a presentation while studying criminal justice at the University of Washington (the presentation is posted in several places, just Google ‘Christopher Monfort jury nullification”).  The presentation supported the work of a professor at another university who has advocated jury nullification (a jury which disregards the judge’s instructions), and in fact Monfort wished to augment the professor’s work by advocating that juries acquit accused minority defendants regardless of the evidence or instructions of the judge.  He argues that the justice system is unfair to people of color, and because of this juries had a duty to level the playing field.  Monfort apparently was not picky about crimes in advocating jury nullification.  He included all crimes in his concept that juries should acquit.
  • I expect that the state crime lab will be adding additional forensic evidence in the coming weeks, such as demonstrating that the composition (chemical constituents, manufacturing process, impurities or contaminations information, brands, etc.),  of the materials used at the fire bombing site and in Monfort’s apartment.   I don’t believe I’ve listed all the evidence in these bullet points, but I do think that I’ve explained why the Assistant Chief may have hinted that the family and Ms, Lawry need not worry that police were isolating Monfort to intimidate him into confessing.  I’m sure the Chief need not have hinted that not only were officers NOT talking with Monfort in an effort to get a confession, but of course the Seattle Police Department does not ever coerce confessions.  And in this case, I read the Chief’s non-verbal cues as conveying the impression that there was so much evidence that police didn’t need a confession to get a conviction.

Monfort’s mother answered some questions through Ms. Lawry, counsel appointed to his case.  Monfort is an only child (though a person claiming to be his half-brother with a shared father has been posting in forums about the case).  Lawry also made available some questions she had asked and answers given by Monfort’s mother:

“As a little boy it was Scouts, baseball, football, playing outside with friends at any chance. He loved putting model cars and airplanes together. He developed a major interest in ariplanes and collected books on them and later learned to sky dive and as an adult learned to love scuba diving, motorcycling and he loved to travel. While in Community College he began to paint and loved to paint to music and won a prize for one of his paintings at the school. He also is a lover of music - all genres and taught himself guitar and would often give gifts of music to friends and family.”

Prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s statement at the press conference announcing that he would file aggravated first degree murder charges among others brought an unwelcome image to my mind of Waco, Texas and the Branch Davidian compound conflagration. According to Satterberg:

“This case is unique in that Monfort deliberately planned to confront police and kill as many officers as he could.  He was planning to make a final armed stand should he be discovered."

Monfort had booby trapped his apartment, had fire bombs waiting for use, as well as his .223 rifle.  In retrospect, the consequences of approaching Monfort to ask questions could have resulted in other deaths win the ranks of both the targeted group - police officers and a likely unintended group – other residents in the apartment building.  Had Monfort made it to his apartment, the scene I watched live as news helicopters hovered above the building might have been of a firefight followed by explosions and a very big fire in the apartment building rather than a brief view of the accused being stabilized for transport and then of the covered B210, and the dozens of police cars stacked up for several blocks on the road leading to the building.  The street was so jammed with vehicles that when the  SWAT and crime scene vehicles arrived, officers had to move some patrol cars just to get the larger vehicles to the scene.

That Monfort carefully planned these crimes is clear, and his letter to police, left at the scene of the arsons and on his printer, Monfort told police to:

“Start policing each other or get ready to attend a lot of police funerals."

Thankfully, an alert citizen and quick and careful police work by Seattle Police Department investigators brought down the curtain on Monfort’s play before anyone else could be harmed.

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