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Originally published November 4, 2009 at 9:21 AM | Page modified November 6, 2009 at 4:51 PM

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Threat to police left at arson site 9 days before officer killed

A note threatening the lives of police officers was left Oct. 22 at the site where four Seattle police vehicles were set afire — nine days before Saturday night's fatal shooting of veteran Officer Timothy Brenton in Leschi, according to sources familiar with both cases.

Seattle Times staff reporters

Police search for suspects

Candlelight vigil for Officer Brenton

Trainee's call for help

Saturday was only Britt Sweeney's second shift with Field Training Officer Tim Brenton. Ambushed in their car, Brenton was killed and Sweeney was grazed by a bullet. After firing at the fleeing shooter, the student officer had the presence of mind to radio for help. Her reactions, likened to that of a 10-year veteran, have drawn praise from her fellow officers. Here's a transcript of her radio call:

0:00 Sweeney: Shots fired, north on Yesler!

0:06 Dispatcher: Is there a unit calling radio?

0:15 Officer: Charlie 24, I believe she said I-5 north of Yesler.

0:19 Dispatcher: 3 George 13?

0:23 Sweeney: [garble]

0:24 Dispatcher: 3 George 13?

0:30 Dispatcher: I map George 13 — I show her at 29 and East Yesler Way, if units could start that way.

0:37 Sweeney: Help me. Shots are fired!

0:42 Sweeney: My partner's dead!

0:43 Dispatcher: I need units to 29 and East Yesler.

0:47 Officer: Edward 32's on his way.

1:00 Officer: 3 George en route.

1:08 Sweeney: Help me.

1:12 Dispatcher: Help the officer 29 and East Yesler.

1:24 Sweeney: I need medical.

1:38 Officer: George 31 arriving.

2:01 Officer: George 33, we've got officer down. 29 and Yesler — we need more u-, uh, we need Fire here now.

2:06 Dispatcher: Fire's on the way.

Source: Central District News

Family statement

The following statement was released Tuesday by the family of Officer Tim Brenton:

"The family of Officer Tim Brenton would like to thank the community for the tremendous outpouring of support. Even with the tragic loss, Tim's wife and children are finding solace in the support from the police community, their friends and family, and the community as a whole. We know that Tim would be honored and humbled by the limitless support that has been provided at the difficult time. We sincerely thank you for the generous emotional support, thoughts, and prayers."

Information sought

A $105,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest. Callers can contact the department's tip line at 206-233-5000. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous can call CrimeStoppers at 800-222-TIPS.

A fund has been established for the family of Officer Tim Brenton. Donations may be made at any Bank of America branch under the "Brenton Family Assistance Fund."

Source: Seattle Police Department

A note threatening the lives of police officers was left Oct. 22 at the site where four Seattle police vehicles were set afire — nine days before Saturday night's fatal shooting of veteran Officer Timothy Brenton, according to sources familiar with both cases.

The arson at a city maintenance yard also involved the use of pipe bombs, in what was a far more sophisticated attack than disclosed previously, the sources said.

Police also are looking for a car, captured on a patrol car's video camera, that might be linked to the apparently random shooting of Brenton and his partner, who suffered minor injuries.

At a news briefing Wednesday, Assistant Chief Jim Pugel declined to discuss evidence in the shooting and unsolved arson.

Asked if a warning about the Oct. 22 bombings had been released to officers, he said, "We wouldn't hide anything in any way if we knew it was going to hurt law-enforcement officers."

Pugel said the department had no information on anything that directly threatened an officer.

One source described the note as containing a general threat against police officers.

Pugel said the two incidents were being investigated separately, but that detectives handling each case are sharing information on a daily basis.

If one person is responsible for both incidents, he said, it would represent a significant escalation of the threat to police.

A veteran Seattle police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday that officers are being told to make sure to carry rifles and shotguns on duty.

Fliers referring to police brutality also were found at the maintenance yard, according to previous news reports.

The incident occurred at 714 S. Charles St., only a few miles west of Saturday's shootings at 29th Avenue and East Yesler Way in the Leschi neighborhood.

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Three Seattle police cars and an RV used as a mobile precinct were torched in the maintenance yard, where police, fire and other city vehicles awaiting maintenance work are stored.

Investigators have uncovered a patrol-car video of a car of interest in Saturday night's shooting, but said they do not know whether the car was used in the attack. The car is similar to the assailant's vehicle, described as a small late-1970s, mid-1980s or early-1990s two-door sedan, silver or beige and perhaps an import, Pugel said at Wednesday's briefing.

The video was captured in the vicinity of the shooting on the dashboard camera of one of the patrol cars that immediately responded to the call, police spokesman Sean Whitcomb said.

The car seen in the video is "better than others" in matching the description of the car that fled the scene of the shooting, Whitcomb said.

Brenton, 39, a field training officer, and a student officer, Britt Sweeney, 33, were sitting in their patrol car, parked southbound on 29th Avenue, when a car pulled next to them and someone inside fired a barrage of shots shortly after 10 p.m.

Sweeney, in the driver's seat, hunched over and avoided serious injury. Brenton, in the passenger seat, was killed instantly.

After the shooting, the car backed up, turned around and sped north on 29th Avenue, as Sweeney returned fire, police said.

Pugel said Sweeney is the department's "primary witness." He said she has asked to return to work soon, a request that will granted. Sweeney has been hailed as a hero for her quick responses.

Brenton's family, including his wife, Lisa, visited the site of the shooting Wednesday. They were escorted by Assistant Chief Nick Metz.

The description of the car caught on video is contained in a law-enforcement bulletin, with a description and a request for police to be on the lookout for the vehicle.

The bulletin, issued Tuesday and obtained by The Seattle Times, says the information is being shared "for officer safety."

"There is no probable cause for arrest at this point," the bulletin says. "However officers must use extreme caution when approaching any vehicle of this description."

The Times is withholding the precise description of the car at the request of the Police Department, which said it would release details if the car is not located.

Whitcomb said he wasn't aware of a license plate being visible.

The department has been flooded by tips, including some from people saying the shootings and the Oct. 22 arson at the maintenance yard were related.

Both were "very well-planned and targeted attacks," police have said.

The arson took place about 5 a.m., some 12 hours before a Pioneer Square-area rally to protest police brutality.

News reports at the time said fliers were left at the maintenance yard referring to the rally and citing the case of a King County sheriff's deputy accused of assaulting a teenage girl in a SeaTac holding cell Nov. 29, 2008. The deputy was fired Sept. 9 over the beating.

Police haven't confirmed the reports of the fliers.

Workers at the yard say they saw a suspicious-looking man walking through a parking lot shortly before the arson. As they tried to talk to him, flames began erupting from the police cars, and the man ran.

He was described as 6 feet tall with a slim build, and was wearing dark clothing and possibly carrying a backpack.

Staff reporter Mike Carter contributed to this report, which includes information from Seattle Times archives.

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

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

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