Seattle police are looking for possible connections between Saturday night's fatal shooting of veteran Officer Timothy Brenton and the torching...
Seattle police are looking for possible connections between Saturday night’s fatal shooting of veteran Officer Timothy Brenton and the torching nine days earlier of four police vehicles at a maintenance yard on South Charles Street.
Both were “very well-planned and targeted attacks,” said police spokesman Sean Whitcomb.
Police are asking for the public’s help in both incidents, Whitcomb said.
No connections between the two incidents have been made, Whitcomb said, noting there is a sharp difference between damaging police vehicles and killing a police officer. But the close timing of the incidents and the sophisticated nature of both attacks warrant scrutiny, Whitcomb said.
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“So we can’t rule anything out and we can’t rule out the fact that someone intended to find and kill [police] on Saturday, and they had a plan that was very orchestrated, and they performed this murderous plan and made a successful escape for the time being,” he said.
Police officials say the driver of the car that pulled alongside Brenton’s patrol car, and from which the shots were fired, backed up and turned around before driving away.
The move was risky because it gave a student officer with Brenton time to get out of the patrol car and return fire, Whitcomb said.
The maneuver suggests the driver didn’t want to drive past the patrol car’s dash-mounted camera and possibly had a planned escape route.
The Charles Street incident on Oct. 22, which remains unsolved, also involved a “considerable amount of time planning and executing,” Whitcomb said. Whitcomb said he was basing that conclusion on the extent of the destruction and evidence that hasn’t been publicly disclosed.
News reports at the time of the torching said fliers were left at the scene referring to the case of a King County sheriff’s deputy accused of assaulting a teenage girl in a SeaTac holding cell Nov. 29, 2008, after she kicked a shoe at him. The deputy was fired Sept. 9 over the beating, which was captured on surveillance tape.
Police haven’t confirmed the reports of the fliers.
Three Seattle police cars and an RV used as a mobile precinct were torched in the maintenance yard at 714 S. Charles St., where police, fire and other city vehicles awaiting maintenance work are stored.
Workers at the yard saw a suspicious-looking man walking through a parking lot about 5 a.m. As they tried to talk to him, flames began erupting from the police cars and the man ran from the scene.
Police concluded the fires were deliberately set. There were reports of explosions, but police declined to confirm that.
The drive-by shooting of Brenton shortly after 10 p.m. Saturday represented something the department had not seen before: the apparent targeting of police at random.
“It was incredibly brazen and bold,” said Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel, who called the shooting an “assassination.”
Brenton, 39, a field training officer, and officer-trainee Britt Sweeney were seated in their parked squad car discussing an earlier traffic stop when Sweeney sensed danger over her left shoulder and yelled for her partner to duck.
A car pulled up alongside the officers’ car in the 100 block of 29th Avenue shortly after 10 p.m., and someone inside opened fire.
Bullets grazed Sweeney’s back as she hunkered down. Brenton was struck by several gunshots and died instantly.
Sweeney, 33, grabbed the police radio and called for help, jumped from the car and fired several rounds at the gunman’s sedan as it backed away from the cruiser, turned around and sped down the Leschi street, police said Sunday.
Speaking at a news conference Sunday afternoon, Mayor Greg Nickels called the shooting “a coldblooded killing.”
Police have not identified any suspects or a motive in the shooting. Asked if the shooting could be gang-connected, Pugel said nothing had been ruled out.
In a briefing Monday morning before the City Council, Interim Police Chief John Diaz said the shooter apparently watched the earlier traffic stop conducted by the two officers and then ambushed them.
“This was a hit on law enforcement, a hit on government, not this particular officer,” he said.
Footage from all cameras from patrol cars that were in the vicinity Saturday night is being examined for clues. Cameras from local businesses and red-light cameras are also being examined, he said.
“This was a profound tragedy. A shock to our senses,” said Diaz, apologizing for being emotional. “It’s a family.”
Diaz said the department is getting many tips, and Clear Channel has donated four billboards to try to help solve the shooting. He said the department has made changes in deployment of officers but didn’t give any specifics.
Police spent Sunday night and early today looking into people previously arrested for threats to police and obstruction to see where they were on Saturday night, according to a law-enforcement source.
Police said Brenton had not been the target of any threats.
David Gomez, the assistant special agent in charge of the Seattle office of the FBI, said the bureau has opened an investigation file — routine in all fatal police shootings — and that agents and supervisors are culling their informants for leads.
“Sooner or later, someone is going to talk,” he said.
He said that the FBI has offered “its full resources” to the Seattle Police Department and that, if the case remains unsolved, the bureau will offer a federal reward.
Brenton, of Marysville, was a married father of two young children, a boy and a girl, said the slain officer’s uncle, Jon Brenton, 50, of Kingston.
Timothy Brenton had been with the department since December 2000.
“Everybody loved him,” Jon Brenton said Sunday. “I don’t think there was any reason anybody would come after him.”
A Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy was parked outside the slain officer’s Marysville home Sunday. He said the family did not wish to comment.
The slain officer’s father and another uncle are retired Seattle police officers, and his brother-in-law is a Seattle firefighter, Assistant Police Chief Nick Metz said.
Brenton transferred to the Seattle Police Department from the police department in La Conner, Skagit County.
Sweeney, of Seattle, was treated for minor injuries at Harborview Medical Center. Pugel said she was resting at home Sunday and declined to release much about her life out of concern that she remains a target.
“We are concerned with her safety. It is a miracle she is alive,” said Pugel, who praised Sweeney’s quick thinking and behavior that he likened to that of a veteran officer.
Police said Sweeney recently completed six months of training at two police academies and had been in field training for about a month.
In Seattle, student officers are paired with field training officers in a “job shadow-type role,” police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said. Student officers generally work in field training for about 3 ½ months.
Investigators tentatively have concluded that a rifle was fired at the officers, according to a Seattle police source briefed on the matter.
Kent Holt, 28, was at a Halloween party near the scene and was outside on the deck of a multiplex when he heard “at least 10” gunshots. He said he thought it was fireworks until the street flooded with police cars.
Investigators have questioned one man in connection with the shooting, but police are only calling him a “person of interest.”
That man had been booked into the King County Jail on Friday for threatening police but was released on bond Saturday.
Police questioned him shortly after the shooting and rearrested him for investigation of obstruction, according to a law-enforcement source.
Awaz Maki Madow, 25, on Monday was ordered held on $30,000 bail — far less than the $150,000 city prosecutors requested.
Madow, 25, pleaded not guilty to a charge of obstruction. Police documents say that on Friday he threatened a King County Jail sergeant who had been assigned to his pending case. According to a police report, Madow told the sergeant he might have to “take someone out” and that he talking of killing a Seattle police officer and a Corrections officer.
The last Seattle police officer to die in the line of duty was Joselito “Lito” Barber, 26, who was killed Aug. 13, 2006, when an SUV driven by Mary Rivas ran a red light and struck his patrol car.
Rivas was sentenced to 20 years in prison for vehicular homicide in November 2007.
The last Seattle officer to be gunned down was Antonio Terry, 36, who was fatally shot June 4, 1994, when he stopped to help two men, Quentin Ervin and Eric Smiley, whose vehicle had broken down on an Interstate 5 offramp.
Smiley was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to 33 years in prison.
Ervin also was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
At a news conference Monday morning, African-American leaders denounced the killing, calling it an “assassination” and saying these acts won’t be tolerated in their community.
The Rev. Harriett Walden, director of Mothers for Police Accountability, said that though her organization is a police watchdog group, “in this moment we stand in solidarity with the Seattle Police Department in the loss of their fallen comrade.”
They encouraged anyone with information to come forward.
“In order to stop the violence, we need to break the code of silence,” said Pastor Patrinell Wright, head of the Total Experience Gospel Choir.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or email@example.com
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Seattle Times staff reporters Susan Gilmore, Maureen O’Hagan and Mike Carter, news researcher Gene Balk and The Associated Press contributed to this report.