A woman who was walking her dog on Halloween night 2009 took the witness stand on Wednesday afternoon, providing the first testimony about events that immediately preceded the fatal ambush of Seattle Police Officer Tim Brenton in Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood.
The trial of Christopher Monfort, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and is potentially facing the death penalty for Brenton’s killing, began two weeks ago.
Since then, testimony has focused on the destruction of Seattle police vehicles at a city maintenance yard that occurred early on Oct. 22, 2009. City workers, police officers, firefighters and a variety of law enforcement investigators have so far told the jury about an intense fire that torched a mobile command center — basically, a modified RV — and pipe bombs that were set off, damaging a handful of patrol cars at the sprawling, vehicle-maintenance yard on Charles Street.
The jury has also heard that a large hunting knife was plunged into the roof of another patrol car, with an American flag attached to a pole jammed into the knife’s hollow center.
The arsonist, witnesses testified, duct-taped two fliers on that patrol car’s windows and distributed eight other fliers around the maintenance yard. Each of the fliers included messages railing against police brutality and warning of police deaths. As the first police officers arrived on the scene, the arsonist ran from the maintenance yard, slipping through a large hole cut in a chain link fence on the north perimeter near 9th Avenue and Dearborn Street.
While the testimony about the Charles Street firebombing was mostly dispassionate, with several scientific explanations about how fire behaves and explosions are ignited, the initial testimony from Valerie Reed on Wednesday seemed to shift the trial into more emotional territory. Reed, who didn’t witness the shooting but was several blocks away when she heard the gunshots that killed Brenton, choked up as she testified.
In the gallery, Brenton’s mother Penny wiped away tears as she listened to Reed, one of the last people to see her son alive.
Reed, who lives in the Central Area, told the jury she typically walks her dog every night when she gets home from work, usually between 9 and 10 p.m. On Halloween night 2009, she had a new puppy named Sasha she was in the process of training — and she walked the dog from Cherry Street south on 28th Avenue, arriving at what she referred to as “Castle Park,” so named by neighbors for the castle-like play structure at the south end of the park that faces Martin Luther King Jr. Way. (The park’s official name is Powell Barnett Park).
During direct questioning by King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Baird, Reed said she was headed for a slight rise at the north end of the park near Jefferson Street. But that night, she watched the driver of a small, older car maneuver over the curb and park on the small hill, its nose pointed toward Martin Luther King Jr. Way, where a Seattle patrol car was stopped behind another vehicle, Reed said.
“How far away from the car were you?” Baird asked.
“I was very close. I was still on the sidewalk on 28th … I could’ve walked up (to the car) and said, ‘don’t drive up there,’ ” Reed answered. She said the driver shut off the vehicle’s head lights and she assumed to occupants were there to smoke marijuana.
Reed walked her dog across MLK Way to where two officers — a man and a woman — were conducting a traffic stop.
“He seemed to be teaching the policewoman something, the way they were interacting,” said Reed, who overheard the policeman — Brenton — tell the other officer to approach the driver of the stopped vehicle.
The jury heard during opening statements that Brenton was a field-training officer who was training then-rookie-Officer Britt Sweeney on the night he was killed.
The two later parked their patrol car on 29th Avenue just north of Yesler Way to discuss the traffic stop when a gunman pulled alongside their patrol car and opened fire with an assault rifle. Sweeney, who was in the driver’s seat, was able to duck the bullets that killed Brenton, the jury has heard. Sweeney was able to jump from the car and return fire as the gunman sped north on 29th.
Reed said the car parked inside the park remained where it was with the lights off for some time before turning east on 28th Avenue. Reed walked south on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, but then turned around and started heading for the house she’s lived in for 45 years. The police patrol car, she said, drove by her.
Reed testified that she reached Cherry Street and MLK, and saw another officer getting takeout from Catfish Corner, a restaurant there.
“He said, ‘Nice dog,’ and I said, ‘Thanks,’ ” Reed said. “Then all of a sudden, I heard all that shooting.”
The officer she saw at Catfish Corner quickly drove off, she said.
“It was just a lot of ‘pop, pop, pop.’ It was loud and it was fast … I knew it was something big because it was so much and it was so loud,” said Reed, her voice breaking.
She said she watched the TV news that night and learned a police officer had been killed.
Early the next morning, she flagged down a patrol officer in the neighborhood, told him what she’d seen the night before in the park and later met with detectives — who had her view dash-cam footage from a patrol car. The footage showed the same small car she had noticed parked with its lights off inside the park, Reed testified.
Reed will resume her testimony Thursday morning.