Seattle cop's court testimony recalls ambush that killed partner
Gunman opened fire on two officers Halloween night in 2009
By Christine Clarridge
The Seattle Times
SEATTLE — The audio recording brought it all back with grim poignancy.
Officer Britt Kelly is heard sobbing and saying, "Oh my God," while trying to explain the ambush that moments earlier left her field training officer, Tim Brenton, dead in the passenger seat of their patrol car in Seattle's Leschi neighborhood. Responding officers curse when they see Brenton's body, still seated upright in the patrol car.
"I fired at them; I don't think I got them," a distraught Kelly is heard explaining.
The patrol-car recording, taken the Halloween night in 2009 that a gunman opened fire on the two officers, was played Wednesday in a Seattle courtroom as jurors and fellow officers in the audience listened silently. Nearby, the man accused of the shooting, Christopher Monfort, didn't appear to react.
Monfort, 46, is charged with aggravated first-degree murder, which carries a potential death penalty, arson and three counts of attempted first-degree murder for what prosecutors portray as a rampage against police. Prosecutors allege he set a fire and detonated pipe bombs that destroyed police vehicles at a city maintenance yard the week before Brenton was killed.
Monfort has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
The officers seated in the courtroom sat with jaws braced, or hands over their mouths Wednesday as the audio and video culled from the dashboard camera in Kelly's patrol car underscored her second day of testimony.
On Tuesday, her first day on the stand, Kelly had testified that she and Brenton had pulled over on the side of 29th Avenue off East Yesler Way on Oct. 31, 2009, so he could critique her traffic stop. Kelly, who was behind the wheel, was a rookie officer at the time and Brenton was teaching her the ropes.
Her testimony Wednesday focused on the shooting, and it took Kelly a moment to compose herself -- swallowing, shutting her eyes and recrossing her legs -- before she answered the questions about the shooting put to her by Senior Deputy Prosecutor John Castleton.
Kelly and Brenton were seated in the car with the dome light on as she listened to his "constructive criticism," she told jurors. She was about to put the car in gear when a smaller, older-model car pulled up alongside the patrol car so close she would not have been able to open the door, she said. Both cars were facing south, she said.
"The next thing I remember is a very bright muzzle flash, a very loud noise and the smell of gunpowder so fierce ... and pain, all at once," she said, struggling to overcome tears.
Kelly said she thought she heard six or seven gunshots. The searing pain from a bullet that grazed her head caused her to pull away from the window and duck down. She moved lower with each round.
"We're being shot at," she recalled thinking.
When the shooting stopped, Kelly sat up and radioed that shots had been fired. As the shooter's car backed up, she got out of the patrol car and opened fire, she said.
She stopped firing when the car was too far away to safely shoot at anymore, she said.
Kelly said she sought cover in front of the patrol car, fearing the shooter would return to finish the job.
She recalled being angry that Brenton didn't get out of the car. As far as she knew, he was allowing her -- the rookie -- to handle it on her own.
But when she looked inside the patrol car, she saw that Brenton was obviously dead, she said.
She called for help, saying an officer was down or dead and whispered "help me" into the transmitter. Even after taking cover between two cars in an adjacent parking lot, she did not feel safe, saying she felt like she was being "hunted."
She said that even when other officers arrived, she still didn't feel safe and was at first hesitant to reveal herself or give her location.
Responding officers asked Kelly if she was injured and she told them her head hurt.
One officer said she'd been shot in the back and she remembered thinking, "Oh God, I don't feel it yet." According to prosecutors, a bullet had struck her bulletproof vest.
Kelly said other officers removed her uniform shirt and vest to check her for injuries and another told her to holster her handgun.
While she was in the medic van being treated for the wound on her head, she asked someone to turn off the interior light.
She said she didn't feel safe being in a vehicle when someone outside in the darkness could see her.
Also Wednesday, Seattle police homicide Detective Jason Kasner explained for jurors how investigators studied the dashboard-camera videos from officers who were racing from various parts of the city to the shooting scene. While doing so, they saw two particular cars -- a white SUV and a smaller, older hatchback -- show up a number of times.
Prosecutors said they expect to have other investigators on the stand Thursday to talk about how they began to narrow in on the hatchback as Monfort's vehicle.
Copyright 2015 The Seattle Times