Seattle police detectives are trying to determine why Christopher John Monfort, 41, suspected of arson and deadly shooting, held a grudge against officers that apparently spiraled from destructive to deadly in so little time. Police on Saturday labeled him a "domestic terrorist" who was apparently acting alone and whose motives remain under investigation.
Amid the carnage and confusion of the Halloween night ambush-slaying of Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton was one seemingly incongruous clue that soon took on an ominous meaning.
A bandanna printed with the American flag, found near the patrol car where Brenton was gunned down, provided a chilling connection to a second crime, just nine days earlier, that also targeted Seattle police.
The link — to the bombing of Seattle police vehicles on Oct. 22, where a small flag was found — allowed investigators to quickly determine Brenton almost certainly had been targeted simply because he was an officer. And it helps explain why police officials quickly labeled the killing an assassination.
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Detectives are trying to determine why the man suspected of both crimes, Christopher John Monfort, 41, apparently held a grudge against officers that spiraled from destructive to deadly in so little time. Police on Saturday labeled him a “domestic terrorist” who was apparently acting alone and whose motives remain under investigation.
Monfort was in serious condition at Harborview Medical Center on Sunday, recovering from being shot Friday after, according to police, he pulled a handgun on detectives who approached him in the parking lot of his Tukwila apartment complex.
Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel said a search Saturday of Monfort’s apartment turned up bomb-making materials, improvised explosive devices and two rifles, including a “military-style assault rifle” similar to the type of weapon police believe was used to kill Brenton and wound his rookie partner, Officer Britt Sweeney.
Potential bomb-making materials were found inside a storage shed on the patio of Monfort’s apartment late Saturday, police said. At around 8 p.m., residents in Monfort’s building were evacuated for about an hour, police said.
This morning, police and crime-scene investigators are still searching Monfort’s apartment, said Seattle police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb. Police do not plan to release any new details on the investigation today.
In the apartment, detectives also found news clippings about the firebombing of three police cruisers and a mobile command-post RV at the city’s maintenance yard at 714 S. Charles St. That’s where the first flag was left — along with a note threatening to kill officers and a flier announcing a rally later that day protesting the videotaped jail-cell beating of a 15-year-old girl by a King County sheriff’s deputy last year in SeaTac.
Police also found what one law-enforcement source called a lengthy “manifesto” railing against police brutality and specifically naming the former deputy accused of assaulting the girl in the jail cell, Paul Schene, and Travis Brunner, a rookie deputy who was training with Schene.
Schene was fired; his trial is scheduled to begin this week.
The manifesto said that if police brutality didn’t stop, there would be police funerals, according to the source.
“From everything we can tell, this appears to be a case of domestic terrorism,” Pugel said of the two crimes.
But Pugel said the motives aren’t clear, and the picture of Monfort that is emerging is filled with contradictions.
While he allegedly targeted police, he was clearly interested in law enforcement. He graduated from the University of Washington in March 2008 with a degree in Law, Society and Justice. He had been working as a security guard — but recently had lost his job — and owned a number of firearms.
He also drove a dark-colored Ford Crown Victoria — a model often used by police — equipped with a spotlight.
“That was the only car I ever saw him drive,” said neighbor Leon Morgan.
It was Monfort’s other car — an early 1980s Datsun 210 — that led police to his apartment Friday morning, Pugel said.
Police had been searching for similar cars since one had been seen on police-cruiser videos several times in the area where Brenton and Sweeney were ambushed, just minutes before and after the attack.
Brenton, 39, a field training officer, and Sweeney, 33, were parked on 29th Avenue north of East Yesler Way in the Leschi neighborhood just after 10 p.m. Halloween night when someone pulled up next to their patrol car and opened fire. Brenton was killed instantly and Sweeney suffered minor wounds.
She was able to get out of the car and fire at the vehicle, which backed up and sped away.
On Friday morning, about the time a solemn police procession made its way to KeyArena for Brenton’s memorial, a tipster reported that a Datsun in the parking lot of Monfort’s Tukwila apartment complex had been covered with a tarp.
A team of investigators talked to neighbors and Monfort’s apartment manager and confirmed he owned a Datsun 210. They contacted prosecutors to obtain a warrant, and then watched the car until a trio of homicide investigators arrived.
Those detectives had just gotten out of their car when Monfort came out of a staircase and walked into the parking lot, Pugel said.
As soon as the detectives identified themselves, Pugel said, Monfort pulled a handgun, pointed it at the officers and pulled the trigger, but the gun didn’t go off. He then ran back toward the stairs, with the officers in pursuit.
When Monfort turned again, Pugel said, all three detectives fired at him. He was hit in the cheek and stomach.
Pugel said police questioned and released two others who had been seen with Monfort during the day.
What has also emerged from the investigation are similarities between the Police Department’s psychological profile of the killer, released last week, and the information coming out about Monfort. Even so, Pugel said Saturday that detectives “had almost nothing” until the Friday tip panned out.
The tipster, whom police have not identified, may be eligible for a $105,000 reward.
The police profile said the shooter might act unusually in the days after the ambush. Police said Monfort’s neighbors described his behavior in recent weeks as “bizarre.”
The profile also said the shooter “likely has experienced a significant personal crisis in the recent past,” including possibly losing his job. Other stressors may have been building in his life as well.
According to police sources, Monfort recently lost his job as a security guard, and Seattle Municipal Court records show he had received a $550 citation for driving without insurance. That ticket was issued Oct. 16, a week before the Charles Street arson.
Pugel said the department is looking into who issued him the ticket.
Virgil Williams, a 52-year-old electrician who lives in the same apartment complex as Monfort, said he spoke with him about a month ago.
“He said his job as a security guard just wasn’t going well,” Williams said. “He asked me what it took to be an electrician. He seemed like he was just unhappy.”
About two weeks later, Williams said, he was in the laundry room of the building and found two security-guard shirts wadded up in the trash can.
Williams didn’t know if they belonged to Monfort or not, but he took them upstairs to his own apartment. “They were perfectly good shirts,” he said.
After the shooting Friday, Williams said, the shirts were taken by Seattle police detectives as evidence.
Pugel said the three police detectives who shot Monfort have been placed on administrative leave, which is routine after an officer-involved shooting. The detectives fired four to six times, although Pugel did not know how many times Monfort was hit.
Monfort, who has lived in Alaska, California and Washington, has an enigmatic history.
He has no serious criminal history. Besides the recent ticket, he was twice ticketed in Snohomish County.
Those tickets were for a defective turn signal in 2007 and for speeding in 2009. Monfort challenged the 2009 ticket and represented himself in court. The case was dropped after the officer failed to appear at the trial.
It’s unclear what happened with the 2007 ticket.
In recent years he has been a student — first at Highline Community College in Des Moines, then at the UW, where he was enrolled in a program aimed at helping minority students go on to graduate work. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in March 2008.
He also had worked as a volunteer at the American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU spokesman Doug Honig confirmed that he had been a volunteer.
“He wasn’t very involved, and no one remembers him,” Honig said Saturday.
According to friends and acquaintances, Monfort was politically active, and it’s clear from his studies and his volunteer work that he was concerned about abuse of power and injustice.
He also ran for the student Senate while he was at Highline Community College.
A mentor, Garry Wegner, who was program coordinator for Highline’s Administration of Justice program, was close to Monfort and said his former student had recently been a volunteer at the Youth Services Center, teaching incarcerated youth about the criminal-justice system.
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Seattle Times staff reporter Sara Jean Green, Jonathan Martin and news researcher David Turim contributed to this report.