Saturday, November 07, 2009

Person of Interest in Seattle Police Officer Shot

Just minutes after the memorial service for Officer Tim Brenton concluded, Seattle Police Detectives shot and critically wounded a 41 year old man they believe to be the man who both shot officers Brenton and Sweeny as well as torching four police cars at a maintenance lot on October 22.  The man, Christopher Monfort, a recent UW student and former security guard, is alternately described as being gregarious or withdrawn according to a number of people who knew him and spoke with reporters. 

Monfort graduated from the University of Washington in 2008 and studied Law, Society and Justice.  He participated in the McNair Scholars Program which is designed to prepare students for graduate work.  According to the Seattle Times he worked on a paper advocating jury nullification as a means to level the playing field for minorities.  He intended to expand on the ideas of a law professor from Georgetown University, Paul Butler, who goes as far as advocating that juries reject judges instructions and acquit black defendants without regard to the evidence.  Butler has even stated that it is the duty of black jurors to “emancipate” some black “outlaws”.  Butler at least included a caveat that the persons a jury should acquit even if guilty ought to be charged with non-violent crimes.

Police shoot suspect in Seattle officer's murder

Monfort apparently had a significant interest in the justice system, and particularly in changing it through jury activism.  He had difficulty his first attempt at college, but according to a former professor when he returned to college he did very well, having found a subject that interested him:  criminal justice.  Recently Monfort had worked as a truck driver and a waiter, and volunteered at Youth Services, working with young people in trouble and teaching them about the justice system.  I wonder what he was teaching them and will be interested to hear the accounts of some young people he worked with there.  He was recently laid off as a security guard .  He has been described as gregarious, and was seen as a leader by students and professors at Highline Community College, which he attended prior to the University of Washington.  Others have called him withdrawn.  One former landlady said that he had never had a visitor to his apartment in the year he lived in her home.  She also said that he wanted to be a police officer.

Police received a tip from a citizen on Friday, after releasing photos of the Datsun B210 (1980-1983 model years) and soliciting the public’s help in locating it.  There are eighteen light colored B210 models from those model years, and police had checked on each of them.  When they did not find a suspect through the vehicles registered in Washington, Seattle Police decided to release the photos in the hope that someone would have noticed a car matching the description and photo.  It didn’t take long, as police received a tip that a man living in an apartment complex in Tukwila had such a car, and had kept it covered under a canvas car cover since Halloween night. 

(Screen cap of images from KOMO News helicopter)

Monfort had been under surveillance most of the day Friday, and it was when he left his apartment just minutes after the conclusion of the memorial service for Officer Tim Brenton that Seattle police approached him.  KING 5 News is reporting that it was actually Seattle Swat that approached Monfort when he exited his apartment building.  Monfort turned and ran, and when he realized he was blocked from escape he turned and attempted to shoot officers with a handgun.  Three Seattle Police Officers returned fire, hitting Monfort in the head and possibly elsewhere.  I noted a large pool of blood on the lower left side of Monfort’s back as he was laying on the ground waiting for an ambulance.  A Harborview spokesperson indicated that he had two injuries, though some accounts only mention the head wound.  Seattle Police virtually locked down Harborview when the man was brought there, protecting the suspected killer from any citizen who might have been outraged by his actions – judging from the comments in a variety of news sources, there is a tremendous sense of anger directed at the shooter of Officer Brenton.  He remains at Harborview under custody.

Monfort made different impressions on various people.  A former professor at Highline Community College described him as a natural leader, and said he had expected Monfort to do well, to do important things.  He expressed shock at the idea that Monfort was a murderer, let alone the assassin of Officer Brenton.    At highline he was outgoing and engaged with others, running for, and winning a seat in the student senate.  Several people who have lived in the same building with Monfort have described him as being ‘weird’ and a ‘know-it-all, and his former landlady in Pasadena indicated that he wanted to be an LA Police Officer but was unable to get hired.  It appears at this point that Monfort had a different way about him when he was at work or studying as opposed to when he was at home. 

He fits the police profile in a few ways:

  • He had experienced a recent personal crisis when he was laid off as a security guard. 
  • He had wanted to be a policeman and drove a car associated with police use – note the Crown Victoria parked next to the Datsun.  The black Crown Vic has a searchlight on the drivers side and is hard to distinguish from the police Crown Vic parked just behind the cars, blocking them in.
  • He worked in a security job – something the profile indicated he would possibly do.
  • He engaged in behaviors that neighbors noticed.  It was the combination of the new cover on his Datsun and his strange behavior that ultimately got police a tip.  Several neighbors have described him as weird, different, etc. He had made a strange impression on another when he was asked to lower the volume on his electric guitar last week.  Strange impressions do not, of course, make a person a killer, but if you are a killer it can sure get you noticed.
  • I am not sure that Monfort fits this element of the profile – that the suspect would be overly interested in the news of the Brenton case – but I have a feeling he was indeed following the story closely.  Why?  Because he exited his apartment as the memorial service for officer Brenton concluded.  Leaving his apartment on Friday at that time (he’d not been out all day) is just too much of a coincidence for me.  I think he was watching the memorial on television.

No word yet this morning about Monfort’s condition at Harborview, but he was in surgery for many hours last night and had been in critical condition at the update from Harborview.  Police waited for a search warrant to look over the Datsun, and likely the Crown Vic associated with Monfort.  No word on his weapons history or proficiency, at least not yet.  He had no criminal record in Washington or in California.  There is also no known motive yet, though he was vocal that police disproportionally target blacks, and wanted juries to start releasing black offenders to compensate for the alleged targeting of blacks over whites in criminal activities.  When he was unable to get hired as an officer, and lost his job as a security guard, perhaps Monfort became angry at police.

There is also a growing belief that Monfort was the person who fire bombed the Seattle Police maintenance yard in October.  A note left at that scene threatened to kill a police officer in retaliation for alleged police brutality.  The note cited the case of a King County Sherriff’s deputy who recently was fired and prosecuted for assaulting a prisoner in his custody.  If indeed Monfort was the firebomber, then clearly he has made a study of pipe bombs, and likely firearms as well.

It was a sad day yesterday, and the sense of loss Seattle expressed over the death of a good man, the sadness of his family and friends, the anxiety the murder of Officer Brenton caused law enforcement throughout the area all weighed heavy on a gloomy and stormy day.  If Monfort is the cause of all that sadness and loss, then I am glad the police were able to find him.  The day was a little brighter when I noticed several times officers leaving the memorial service for Officer Brenton giving each other high-fives.  Minutes later, news of the shooting in Tukwila began, and I got to a television as quickly as possible.  Few of us who are not wearing a badge are capable of empathizing with the daily experience of policemen.  Most of the time, they see us at our worst in life, and seldom at our best.  Adding to that, this week, was the grief of loss and high-alert required while a person who ambushed and murdered a policeman remained at large.  I hope that the family of Officer Brenton will ultimately find peace, and if capturing the man who killed their father and husband, son and brother can give them some solace.

Update 1 (Nov. 7):

Christopher John Monfort has been upgraded to serious condition at Harborview.  They may be saving his life to preserve him for trial and perhaps a death sentence.  Of course, medical personnel have a duty to save every life, and police are guarding Monfort professionally despite what must be strong feelings.  Let’s hope the case is made and Monfort receives the sentence he deserves, if indeed he is the murderer.  A friend of Monfort’s mother, who cannot believe he would do this, has said that she thinks he was running away when police said they wanted to talk with him because he had a fear of being targeted because of his race.  I don’t know if that’s the reason he ran – it might have had something to do with the car he had covered, hoping to hide it? – but pulling a gun, and according to King County Sherriff's spokesman John Urquhart, Monfort actually pulled the trigger and his pistol misfired or was unloaded as it didn’t discharge a round. 

I have also noted that while he didn’t have a record he did have a recent traffic infraction – driving without insurance – and that may be the source of his grievance with police.  I also wonder if his recent termination as a security guard was as a result of the violation?  We’ll see how it pans out.

Update 2 (Nov. 7)

According to Deputy Chief Jim Pugel, police have impounded two cars that belonged to the suspect shot yesterday after he brandished a handgun at officers with Seattle Police Department.  The cars, an early 1980s Datsun B210 which had been under a car cover since Halloween night, and a black Crown Victoria which closely resembles unmarked police units.  Police have not yet processed the cars, but have processed the apartment of the suspect, and as a result Pugel announced that the man had a several weapons and homemade explosive devices in his apartment.  The bomb squad had to disarm the devices before they could be removed.  Police also found bomb-making materials, a handgun and two rifles in the apartment.  Officers believe that the reason the suspect bolted for his apartment door when officers approached him in the apartment complex parking lot is that he was attempting to get to another weapon inside his apartment.  The pistol he carried with him either was not loaded or misfired when he pulled the trigger.

Police are also saying that they have found items that connect Monfort to both the murder of Officer Brenton and the firebombing of police vehicle at the maintenance yard.  The firebomber left fliers about police brutality which referred to an assault by a sheriffs deputy recently.  Investigators will be comparing the rifles with the weapon used in the murder.  Monfort remains in serious condition under arrest and guard at Harborview.

Update 3 (Nov. 7):

Police sources have identified the item found at both the site of Officer Brenton’s murder and the fire bombing of SPD vehicles on October 22.  At each site, investigators found an American flag.  This particular item also seems to reinforce Monfort’s connection to the two crimes, as he has said that like the professor he wished to augment, his goal was to subvert the American system of justice because he believed it unfair to African Americans. 

Records indicate that the citation Monfort received because he did not have insurance was issued on October 16, just six days before the fire bombing at the maintenance yard. 

Seattle Weekly made an interesting observation in an online comment concerning Monfort, suggesting that it seems quite possible that the idealistic statements he made, combined with an ego which believed he was ‘unique’ and ‘special’ because he ‘actually wanted’ justice could turn into something bitter when he didn’t receive the treatment or position he felt he deserved.  Police officers may have become the target because he became disillusioned when he couldn’t get hired as a policeman, when the ticket cost him his security job, or perhaps even when he saw the news on October 27 that prosecutors in Everett would prosecute an Everett Police Officer with first degree manslaughter for an unjustifiable shooting? 

An interesting comment posted to the Weekly’s blog article about Monfort purports to be from Monfort’s brother – I am not sure how he could be Monfort’s brother unless perhaps he is a half brother by Monfort’s father.  Police have said Monfort is an only child:

Ronald Taylor says:

“Chris was not a terrorist. He loved and respected the law. His track record not only exemplifies that, but also his ideals reflected his commitment to support the community, a community which includes law enforcement. These allegations are preposterous. It seems when a man of color pursues greatness he is tracked down like a run-away slave when it is obvious that he has God-given abilities. Take time to reflect on his life and his track record. Do his past actions look even remotely close to the allegations this police department is making? Who saw the incident? What witnesses do the police have? I know my brother and I know he is no criminal. From what I understand from the community in Seattle, the police department has been known to abuse black males. Living in Los Angeles during the riots, this looks very similar in police tactics to me. I would hope you would use your publication as a vehicle to find what the "truth" truly is. Not only are they trying to kill my brother, but they are trying to kill his reputation as an honest, brilliant, focused, hard-working African-American man. If you need some background information that is truthful and unbiased you can contact me at any time. Please do not hide nor withhold this email from anyone. We have nothing to hide. Also, tell the police department to let Christopher's mother see him in the hospital. That's her right as a mother. Thank you.

Ronald Taylor”

I will work on the question of family members of Monfort and report further when information becomes available.



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