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Originally published November 2, 2009 at 12:07 AM | Page modified November 2, 2009 at 10:27 AM

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Drive-by shooting apparently targeted Seattle police at random

Seattle police say the fatal drive-by shooting of veteran Officer Timothy Brenton on Saturday night represented something the department had not seen before: the apparent targeting of police at random.

Seattle Times staff reporters

Information sought

A $21,000 reward is being offered for anyone with information that leads to an arrest. Callers can contact the Seattle Police Department Homicide Unit at 206-684-5550, or the department's tip line at 206-233-5000. Anyone looking to remain anonymous can call CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

Source: Seattle Police Department

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Seattle police say the fatal drive-by shooting of veteran Officer Timothy Brenton on Saturday night represented something the department had not seen before: the apparent targeting of police at random.

"It was incredibly brazen and bold," said Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel, who called the shooting an "assassination."

Brenton, 39, a field training officer, and officer-trainee Britt Sweeney were seated in their parked squad car when Sweeney sensed danger over her left shoulder and yelled for her partner to duck.

A car pulled up alongside the officers' car in the 100 block of 29th Avenue shortly after 10 p.m., and someone inside opened fire.

Bullets grazed Sweeney's back as she hunkered down. Brenton was struck by several gunshots and died instantly.

Sweeney, 33, grabbed the police radio and called for help, jumped from the car and fired several rounds at the gunman's sedan as it backed away from the cruiser, turned around and sped down the Leschi street, police said Sunday.

Speaking at a news conference Sunday afternoon, Mayor Greg Nickels called the shooting "a coldblooded killing."

Police have not identified any suspects or a motive in the shooting. Asked if the shooting could be gang-connected, Pugel said nothing had been ruled out.

Police spent Sunday night and early today looking into people previously arrested for threats to police and obstruction to see where they were on Saturday night, according to a law enforcement source.

Police said Brenton had not been the target of any threats.

Brenton, of Marysville, was a married father of two young children, a boy and a girl, said the slain officer's uncle, Jon Brenton, 50, of Kingston.

Timothy Brenton had been with the department since December 2000.

"Everybody loved him," Jon Brenton said Sunday. "I don't think there was any reason anybody would come after him."

A Snohomish County sheriff's deputy was parked outside the slain officer's Marysville home Sunday. He said the family did not wish to comment.

The slain officer's father and another uncle are retired Seattle police officers, and his brother-in-law is a Seattle firefighter, Assistant Police Chief Nick Metz said.

Brenton transferred to the Seattle Police Department from the police department in La Conner, Skagit County.

Sweeney was seated in the driver's seat of the patrol car, with Brenton in the passenger seat, as the officers parked in a quiet, tree-lined residential street.

They had stopped to discuss the traffic stop they had completed minutes earlier, Pugel said. A small, light-colored sedan pulled up next to their car. Both vehicles were facing south.

For some reason, Sweeney "sensed" trouble and reacted by ducking, Pugel said.

Gunfire blasted from the sedan without warning, police said. The bullets entered the police car through the driver's window. Both officers were wearing bulletproof vests, police said.

"It is clear the suspect was trying to get both of them," Pugel added.

Police said they aren't sure whether the car was struck by Sweeney's return gunfire. The car was described as a white or light-blue Toyota.

Sweeney, of Seattle, was treated for minor injuries at Harborview Medical Center. Pugel said she was resting at home Sunday and declined to release much about her life out of concern that she remains a target.

"We are concerned with her safety. It is a miracle she is alive," said Pugel, who praised Sweeney's quick thinking and behavior that he likened to that of a veteran officer.

Police said Sweeney recently completed six months of training at two police academies and had been in field training for about a month.

In Seattle, student officers are paired with field training officers in a "job shadow-type role," police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said. Student officers generally work in field training for about 3 ½ months.

Investigators tentatively have concluded that a rifle was fired at the officers, according to a Seattle police source briefed on the matter.

Kent Holt, 28, was at a Halloween party near the scene and was outside on the deck of a multiplex when he heard "at least 10" gunshots. He said he thought it was fireworks until the street flooded with police cars.

Investigators have questioned one man in connection with the shooting, but police are only calling him a "person of interest."

That man had been booked into the King County Jail on Friday for threatening police but was released on bond Saturday.

Police questioned him shortly after the shooting and rearrested him for investigation of obstruction, according to a law-enforcement source.

Details of the obstruction allegation haven't been released by police or the King County Prosecutor's Office.

The last Seattle police officer to die in the line of duty was Joselito "Lito" Barber, 26, who was killed Aug. 13, 2006, when an SUV driven by Mary Rivas ran a red light and struck his patrol car.

Rivas was sentenced to 20 years in prison for vehicular homicide in November 2007.

The last Seattle officer to be gunned down was Antonio Terry, 36, who was fatally shot June 4, 1994, when he stopped to help two men, Quentin Ervin and Eric Smiley, whose vehicle had broken down on an Interstate 5 offramp.

Smiley was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to 33 years in prison.

Ervin also was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

Seattle Times news researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.

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