The firebombing of four Seattle police vehicles last month was actually a failed attempt to kill police officers by the same man now suspected of the ambush-slaying of Officer Timothy Brenton, police officials said Monday.
The firebombing of four Seattle police vehicles on Oct. 22 was a failed attempt to kill police officers by the same man now suspected of the ambush-slaying of Officer Timothy Brenton, police officials said Monday.
During a wide-ranging news conference, Seattle police laid out details of the intense, weeklong investigation into Brenton’s killing on Halloween night that ended Friday when detectives shot and wounded Christopher John Monfort outside his Tukwila apartment.
Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel said a search of Monfort’s apartment has turned up a rifle that is “an identical ballistic match” to the .223-caliber weapon used to kill Brenton and wound rookie officer Britt Sweeney. Police also have matched DNA from Monfort to “signature” items left at the firebombing at a city maintenance yard and at the scene of the shooting — an American flag left at the arson scene and a flag-emblazoned bandanna found near Brenton’s patrol car.
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Investigators also said the Datsun 210 coupe that led police to Monfort — after it was captured in police dash-camera video the night of the shooting — was struck by at least one bullet that apparently was fired by Sweeney the night of the slaying.
Brenton, 39, and Sweeney were seated in their parked patrol car on 29th Avenue, just north of East Yesler Way, shortly after 10 p.m. Oct. 31 when a car pulled up next to them and someone opened fire. Brenton was killed immediately and Sweeney suffered minor injuries.
Sweeney managed to get out of the patrol car, radio for help and return fire.
At a hearing Monday afternoon, King County Superior Court Judge Sharon Armstrong found probable cause to detain Monfort, 41, for 72 hours on suspicion of aggravated first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder while prosecutors prepare to file charges against him, said Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff to King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. Monfort is expected to be charged Thursday, Goodhew said.
The aggravated-murder charge could open the door for a potential death-penalty case.
Monfort was in satisfactory condition Tuesday at Harborview Medical Center, where he is recovering from gunshot wounds to his cheek and stomach.
He was shot Friday by three Seattle homicide detectives who were responding to a tip called in by one of Monfort’s neighbors. The neighbor, identified as Monfort’s apartment manager in court documents, reported that Monfort had been acting strangely since the Oct. 31 shooting and had covered his car, a white Datsun 210 — something he’d never done before.
When the detectives attempted to talk to Monfort, he pointed a gun at the head of one of the detectives and pulled the trigger, Pugel said. The gun “clicked” but didn’t fire. Monfort ran up some stairs and again pointed a weapon at the detectives, who shot him.
The officer-involved shooting is being investigated by the King County Sheriff’s Office because it happened in Tukwila.
Sgt. John Urquhart, Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said it appears that Monfort did not have a round in the chamber of his semi-automatic handgun when he attempted to fire at police the first time.
Investigators believe that Monfort cocked the weapon while he was running. When the gun was recovered, after Monfort had been shot, Urquhart said the weapon was ready to fire.
According to Pugel and the court documents, detectives found several “rudimentary” bombs, along with bomb-making materials, when they searched Monfort’s apartment over the weekend.
The devices mostly consisted of propane fuel bottles duct-taped to a container of flammable liquid and ignited by a fuse. Some appeared to use highway flares, and Pugel pointed out that some of the devices had nails taped to them for additional shrapnel.
Photos released by police showed firearms, several of what Pugel has called “improvised explosive devices,” ammunition, propane bottles and flammable liquids strewed haphazardly in black plastic trash bags along a wall.
Detectives also recovered a shotgun with a pistol grip and a customized Kel-Tec .223-caliber semi-automatic rifle, along with numerous loaded magazines and dozens, if not hundreds, of rounds of loose ammunition.
Pugel said the rifle had a unique barrel that helped forensic experts match the weapon to the rounds fired into the patrol car.
KING-TV reported Monday night that police also found massive amounts of child pornography on Monfort’s personal computer.
Detectives believe Monfort attempted to kill police officers during the firebombing at the South Charles Street maintenance yard by setting a mobile police-precinct RV on fire and leaving pipe bombs under nearby parked patrol cars that were timed to go off just as police and firefighters got to the scene.
Pugel said two officers responding to the fire nearly parked next to the booby-trapped patrol vehicles but were drawn away by a city worker who said he’d seen a suspicious-looking man at the other end of the maintenance yard. He said the RV arson was “bait to get [officers] in there.”
No officers were hurt.
A note, listing grievances about “bad officers, jury nullification and bad government,” was taped to the window of a nearby vehicle, Pugel said. It referenced “police funerals” in the past tense, indicating to police that whoever found it was to have also discovered the bodies of officers who were supposed to have died in the blasts. A “military-style” knife and the flag were also found at the scene.
The note also referenced anger over alleged instances of police brutality.
Also at the news conference, the department played a video of a traffic stop by officers of Monfort on Oct. 15, just 16 days before Brenton was killed. Pugel said the stop was routine, although the officers were suspicious that Monfort appeared lost in the neighborhood driving a Ford Crown Victoria — a vehicle often used by police — equipped with a spotlight.
One of the officers can be heard commenting to her partner that Monfort gave her lip. When she asked him if he knew where he was going, she said he responded, “Do you know where you’re going?” He also refused to give his phone number.
The officers cited him for not having insurance, a “status offense” that doesn’t affect the driver’s record or insurance rates if it’s taken care of. If not, it would have cost him $550. Pugel said the officers gave Monfort a break by not citing him for failing to signal a turn, which was the reason they used to pull him over.
When asked whether Monfort could have been casing the neighborhood’s side streets, Pugel said it was an “interesting” idea, pointing out that the traffic stop was about six blocks from where Brenton was killed.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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Seattle Times staff reporters Jennifer Sullivan and Steve Miletich contributed to this report.