Christopher Monfort, the Tukwila man accused of killing Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton and wounding his rookie partner in 2009, will become the first inmate at the King County Jail to have his own television set. Jail officials say the decision was made to combat Monfort's severe isolation.
Paralyzed and in a wheelchair, one of King County’s most notorious jail inmates has posed a unique set of challenges for the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention.
Like others designated an “ultra-security” inmate, a group that includes the most high-profile, most violent and those potentially facing the death penalty, Christopher Monfort spends 23 hours a day in isolation, said Claudia Balducci, director of the county’s detention system.
But the other ultra-security inmates are housed in individual cells and have fellow inmates in neighboring cells. They can talk, play cards with each other under their doors and even watch television during their one hour a day outside their cells.
Monfort, on the other hand, is housed away from the other ultra-security inmates because he is paralyzed from the waist down and requires special care, authorities said.
His lawyer, Carl Luer, said the “effects of the isolation have had a severe impact” on the 44-year-old inmate who is accused of killing Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton three years ago.
Jail staff members believe they have come up with a way to ease Monfort’s isolation: They’re giving him his own television.
In the next few days, Monfort will become the first King County Jail inmate to have his own small, color television in his cell, Balducci said. The TV won’t be fancy — not a large wall-mounted flat screen — and will offer “less than basic cable” options, she said.
And he won’t be able to watch late-night TV; it has to be off at lights-out, she said.
“We were looking for ways to provide some type of interaction, some way of being involved with other human beings. All of the other inmates have that and he does not,” Balducci said. “Our job is to keep people stable and to keep them safe so they can get through their court cases. In doing that we try to provide as humane environment we can.”
Luer, the defense attorney, and King County prosecutors said the decision was made without their knowledge. Balducci said that Monfort did not request the TV.
Luer said TV “is a reasonable response to a medical necessity.”
“He’s far more isolated than any other inmate in there,” Luer said. “The jail health staff realize that.”
Seattle Police Officers’ Guild President Rich O’Neill calls the decision to give Monfort what he termed special treatment “appalling.”
“This is the anniversary month of Tim’s murder. This is just terrible,” O’Neill said. “I received a phone call [Friday] from Tim’s brother, who couldn’t agree more that this is appalling. [Monfort] is lonely and he needs a TV. Tim’s family is lonely.”
The Police Department also released a statement Friday opposing Monfort receiving a TV.
The head of the King County Corrections Guild could not be reached for comment.
Monfort is charged with aggravated murder in the fatal shooting of Brenton and attempted first-degree murder in the wounding of Britt Sweeney on Oct. 31, 2009.
Brenton, 39, and officer trainee Sweeney were in their parked patrol car in the Leschi neighborhood when, police say, Monfort pulled up alongside and opened fire. Authorities say Monfort had intentionally targeted officers.
According to prosecutors, the shooting came nine days after Monfort allegedly firebombed four police vehicles at a city maintenance yard. Police said one of the makeshift bombs was set to go off as police and firefighters arrived to investigate the initial blasts.
A note left behind at the arson railed against police brutality, police said.
On Nov. 6, 2009, the day of Brenton’s memorial service, detectives went to a Tukwila apartment complex after a tipster reported seeing the gunman’s car in the parking lot.
Monfort pulled out a handgun and pointed it at police, but the weapon misfired, according to prosecutors. Montfort was shot in the face and abdomen when he tried to flee, they said. He was left paralyzed from the waist down. His right eye is half-closed, possibly from the bullet wound to his face.
Monfort is scheduled to be tried next September. If he’s convicted he could face the death penalty.
While neither Luer nor jail staff would go into details about Monfort’s injuries and his mental condition, Luer said what his client is enduring is far worse than loneliness.
“Calling it lonely is like calling a severed limb an ‘owie.’ The long-term effects go simply way, way beyond being lonely.”
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.