A Seattle police sergeant testified Monday that Christopher Monfort pointed a handgun at him and pulled the trigger during a confrontation at Monfort’s apartment complex. The weapon “dry fired.” “I should’ve been dead,” the sergeant said.
Whatever fear and confusion Seattle police Sgt. Gary Nelson felt when a gun was pointed at his face and the trigger was pulled quickly turned to anger because he knew he likely would have been killed had the weapon not “dry fired.”
“My emotional level had basically gone from blank, neutral” to feeling “amped up … in the blink of an eye,” Nelson, a homicide sergeant, testified Monday during the capital trial of Christopher Monfort. “Fear was overcome by anger so quickly. The change was so dramatic. It was a very surreal experience.”
Nelson described his initial encounter with Monfort in a stairwell at Monfort’s Tukwila apartment complex, then recounted shooting at him moments later as Monfort ran while pointing his gun at Nelson and two other officers on a breezeway 11 feet above Nelson’s head.
After Nelson’s first shot, Monfort appeared to stumble; he fired again and Monfort fell to the breezeway, his gun clattering to the concrete. Nelson saw no movement after that, he testified.
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Monfort, 46, who was paralyzed below the waist in the shooting, is accused of fatally ambushing a Seattle police officer on Halloween night 2009 as well as destroying police vehicles with fire and pipe bombs days earlier, in apparent retaliation for instances of police brutality.
In addition to potentially facing the death penalty in connection with Officer Timothy Brenton’s slaying, Monfort is charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder, accused of trying to kill other officers. One of those counts relates to Nelson.
“Somebody I didn’t know tried to kill me,” Nelson said, explaining his emotional reaction. “I did nothing, I didn’t have any hostility toward this person … I should’ve been dead but I’m not.”
Six days after Brenton was fatally shot while he sat in his patrol car with a then-rookie cop, Nelson and two other homicide investigators went to Monfort’s apartment complex after a tip about a possible suspicious vehicle.
They were looking for an early 1980s Datsun 210 — a vehicle captured on video by the in-car cameras of patrol officers who responded to Brenton’s shooting. Nelson was responsible for tracking hundreds of tips related to the gunman’s vehicle, and he and other detectives were working their way through a list of registered owners — a list that included Monfort, who owned a Datsun 210 and two other cars.
When Nelson, Sgt. Bob Vallor and Detective Rolf Norton arrived at the Tukwila building, Monfort was simply a “subject,” not a suspect, Nelson said. They didn’t think Monfort was home when they asked Tukwila police to send an officer to keep eyes on the Datsun while the Seattle cops made their way south in heavy traffic, he told jurors.
After the Tukwila officer notified Nelson a man had exited Monfort’s fourth-floor apartment, Norton tried to talk to him in the parking lot, but Monfort cursed him and dashed back to his building, Nelson testified. Nelson ran after Norton but lost sight of him when Norton crouched down behind a parked car.
Nelson rounded the corner and climbed a short staircase. Before he could pass the threshold into the breezeway, he saw a gun pointed at him and heard the weapon “dry fire.”
He told jurors: “Mr. Monfort rolled out, he had the gun completely raised” with his shoulder up, staring down his arm at Nelson in a fluid, aggressive move. “He came around the corner and had the gun pointed at me. It was very rapid, it was a run, he was running at me.”
Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Baird asked: “Did you see the muzzle of the gun?”
“Absolutely,” Nelson said.
“And what went through your mind?” Baird questioned.
“That I was going to die,” he said.
Nelson said he stumbled backward down a short flight of stairs while trying to unholster his handgun.
“He pulled the trigger and I heard the dry fire,” he said, explaining that a round hadn’t been chambered in Monfort’s gun. “ … He was going to kill me.”
Nelson saw Monfort’s foot and deduced he had climbed to the fourth floor. Nelson, Vallor and Norton each fired two shots at Monfort as he ran along the breezeway, and Monfort was struck twice — once in the face and once in the stomach.
“I knew he’d shoot me if I didn’t fire at him,” Nelson said.