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Originally published July 24, 2010 at 10:42 PM | Page modified October 20, 2012 at 1:41 PM

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Accused Seattle cop killer Christopher Monfort: loner, obsessed by ideology

When Christopher Monfort was arrested last November on suspicion of assassinating a Seattle police officer, detectives scoured his background, searching for a telltale record of violence.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Death-penalty decision due soon

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg is scheduled by Sept. 3 to decide whether to pursue the death penalty against Christopher Monfort. His defense attorneys are preparing a "mitigation packet" — including biographical information and a mental-health evaluation — that they hope will sway Satterberg against seeking capital punishment. The prosecution already has done its own investigation of Monfort's background.
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None of this history justifies his murder of someone with whom he had never had any... MORE
Just stop giving this guy publicity, and he and his senseless ramblings will fade off... MORE
This monster isn't "courageous", he's a coward and a domestic terrorist. MORE

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When Christopher Monfort was arrested last November on suspicion of assassinating a Seattle police officer, detectives scoured his background, searching for a telltale record of violence.

Instead, they found little more than a traffic ticket. He seemed, as one put it, a "ghost."

Monfort's life, it seems, is one of unfulfilled ambition. Driving trucks, he talked of flying airplanes. Working security, he talked of being a cop. Taking classes at community college, he talked of Harvard Law.

His four years as a 30-something college student in the Seattle area give the clearest picture of the obsessive political ideology of Monfort, who carried a copy of the Constitution in his breast pocket and saw himself as a modern-day version of a Revolutionary War-era patriot.

Monfort, 41, now is accused of what prosecutors call a politically driven, violent campaign against the Seattle police that culminated in the Oct. 31 slaying of Officer Timothy Brenton and wounding of Officer Britt Sweeney.

Against the advice of his attorney, Monfort continues to talk, both in the courtroom and in interviews with The Seattle Times. In the interviews, he evaded questions about the criminal charges but offered to tell his story if he were paid. He was not.

As he awaits King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg's decision on whether to seek the death penalty, Monfort spends his days in a wheelchair, a bullet still lodged near his spine.

For Monfort, it was education — first at Highline Community College, then at University of Washington — that influenced his philosophy and views, revealing a man of outsized ambition and social isolation, at war with the world around him.

"A loner like no other"

Monfort enrolled at Highline in Des Moines in 2002 at the age of 34, twice as old as some of the students. He went straight from class to his job as a short-haul trucker.

He drifted through business classes until finding the Administration of Justice program, which pointed to a career in law enforcement. The curriculum was both practical (preserving evidence) and theoretical (preserving the Bill of Rights).

Monfort "caught fire academically," Highline instructor Garry Wegner said shortly after Monfort's arrest in November. "He always seemed to be a natural leader, and people would gravitate toward him."

Monfort excelled in school for the first time. His papers had detail and sweep, especially if the subject was the just-launched Iraq war.

His intensity was palpable. He took over class discussions and challenged instructors about what they taught and how they graded.

"He knew what he was talking about," said Bryan Stumpf, who taught Monfort in a Writing 101 class. "You could always trust him to be able to speak to things from the perspective of the Constitution. He could cite why the war was unjust and unjustifiable."

But Monfort's focus also was off-putting. He got into such a heated argument with Stumpf during an after-class meeting that the instructor called campus security. Monfort later apologized, saying he'd had too much coffee.

In class and at campus forums, he relentlessly campaigned against the war and the Bush administration's expanded anti-terrorism powers. Sometimes his arguments took peculiar side roads.

"The King of Saudi Arabia, all of his children and relatives, and an entourage of more than 3,000 people have been vacationing on Spain's coast in Del Sol since Aug. 14," he told one audience, saying this cost U.S. taxpayers $185 million.

Monfort gravitated toward the Black Student Union, where he described the "unique challenges" of being biracial with Kolesta Moore, the group's president.

"He was a square bear," said Moore, now a successful R&B singer under the stage name Choklate. "He was someone with a lot of social-communication setbacks. He was a loner like no other. I never saw him in jovial situations, in a casual social environment with other people. He was always alone. Always alone."

Monfort irritated students by insisting the Black Student Union emphasize politics, not parties. "No one really liked Chris," Moore said. "But they didn't dislike him. He was an oddball. He had ideas, but no one was interested in them."

That made his run for student senate during his second year a surprise. The other candidates papered the campus with fliers and pledged to improve cafeteria food and lower textbooks prices. Monfort simply put his name on the ballot and vowed an end to the war in Iraq. "Too often, too many of us walk around with our head in the clouds. Our freedom is under attack," he said at one debate, according to the Highline student newspaper.

All of which made the results even more surprising: Monfort won in a landslide.

Jonathan Brown, a Highline administrator, studied the election's results and saw signs of fraud everywhere.

The total vote count, 529, was about twice the norm. And the votes — cast at designated computer terminals — were suspiciously clustered, seconds apart, in ascending order by student ID number. It was as if "people [were] lining up by Social Security number," Brown said. "The randomness of that was so unbearably unlikely."

The disputed votes accounted for more than two-thirds of Monfort's 290 votes. Brown invalidated the results and questioned Monfort, who denied having anything to do with the fraud.

Monfort told Highline's student newspaper: "I think that the fraudulent votes favored me because I'm the one with the strong platform, and I really want to bring the people from Iraq home. People feel so strongly about what I'm trying to do that they would resort to unethical means to make sure I get in."

Because the college couldn't prove Monfort's culpability, he stayed in the race for the subsequent election. With anemic turnout, he collected 56 votes — enough to snag one of three seats. Kolesta Moore was elected student body president.

Once seated, Monfort continued to push an agenda more fitting for the U.S. Senate. To the other senators, all younger, Monfort was demeaning and condescending. "He made younger girls cry," Moore said. "He had a sharp tongue. If he could make you upset, it was really satisfying to him."

Midway through his term, Monfort was accused of sexually harassing another student. The college, citing student-privacy laws, won't say if he was disciplined.

Alienated from other student leaders, Monfort began fading away. He ultimately resigned his seat. He graduated in 2004, but left the campus where he started — a loner, stuck in his head.

A check mark, erased

Monfort once told a fellow student he felt family pressure to succeed. Born in 1968, he grew up in Hartford City, Ind., where his grandfather owned the newspaper and served on the local bank's board of directors. Monfort's grandmother was a society columnist; many of his five aunts and uncles became successful. His mother, Suzan, ran a fitness gym in Alaska.

Monfort's parents split up when he was young, and he said he rarely saw his father, who is black, as a child. "I didn't spend much time with him," he said in an interview from jail. "I wish that were different." He also rarely saw a face like his own. The 1980 census recorded no African Americans in Hartford City, pop. 7,622.

When Monfort was 11 or so, Dan Fruits, who was dating Suzan Monfort at the time, said he watched Christopher Monfort fill out an application for an after-school activity. When the form asked for race, Monfort checked African American. Then he erased the mark and checked white, Fruits said.

"That's where he is," Monfort's mother told Fruits.

Fruits and Suzan Monfort married and moved Christopher Monfort to Bethel, deep in the Alaska bush, where Fruits taught school. Monfort learned to ride motorbikes and snowmobiles.

To Fruits, his stepson was smart and sometimes funny, but prone to arguments. "It was the sulky teenage behavior, but exaggerated." Monfort tagged along as Fruits, supplementing his teaching job, installed microwave towers on mountaintops and worked on a fishing boat. Fruits admits he was not prepared to be a father.

"In retrospect, I should have realized what a difficult situation we got into. And I wasn't prepared to be in a difficult situation."

The couple split up around 1984, and mother and son moved to Denver, where Suzan Monfort had family. Her son enrolled at Thomas Jefferson High, an urban multicultural school with strong academics.

Tall with an athletic build, he made little impression except as being polite. "He didn't stand out in any way," one former classmate said. Class yearbooks turn up no clubs, honors or sports. His senior picture captures him with a wispy mustache, pinkie ring, crystal pendant and a black-and-blue sweater. Monfort left the space for a favorite quote blank.

After graduating in 1987, Monfort moved to Southern California, waited tables, considered becoming a police officer and eventually learned to drive trucks. He rented a room in Pasadena. For a year, his landlord saw no visitors.

Monfort sued the city of Pasadena in 1991 for a motorcycle crash involving a fire truck; he lost but made an impression on his attorney, Michael Danis. "He was responsible — a good person, a fine young man, a kid I'd be proud to say was my stepson or something."

Monfort settled in Washington in 1999 with a plan to translate his interest in video games into a career as a computer technician. He soon dropped out of computer school and worked for several years setting up conventions and trade expos. When he subsequently landed a degree from Highline, it marked a rare occasion of finishing what he started.

Law, Societies and Justice

After graduating, Monfort worked as a security guard at a warehouse along the Duwamish River with Sam Raisio. Monfort continued to rail against the Iraq war.

"His big thing was, it wasn't fair to people," said Raisio, an Army veteran. "He talked a lot about the fact the Army was made up of people who weren't as well off, and it was injustice."

Monfort tried socializing, spending $500 on a guitar and amp to jam with colleagues at a trucking firm, where he also worked. But when he showed up and started talking politics, the others told him to shut up and play. He eventually peeled off, unable to keep up with the more talented players.

In 2006, Monfort was admitted to the UW. He majored in Law, Societies and Justice, boring into the justice system's racial disparities while making the honor roll. He also became a McNair scholar, a prestigious program that encourages minority students to hone their research skills and pursue graduate degrees.

Monfort was consistently skeptical of government, and his ideology congealed into that of a left-wing constitutionalist. He again challenged his professors and impressed them with well-researched papers. Unlike in the past, he didn't get involved on campus.

He studied jury nullification, a practice in which jurors take it upon themselves to reset social priorities by returning a verdict they consider just, no matter the judge's instructions on the law. Maybe jurors believe the country's drug laws go too far, or the laws unfairly punish African Americans. Those who embrace jury nullification believe it's OK to account for the defendant's race and acquit.

Monfort displayed his jury-nullification research, "The Power of Citizenship your Government doesn't want you to know about," at a UW conference.

Monfort's research cited UW sociology professor Katherine Beckett, who analyzed the Seattle Police Department's drug-enforcement practices using data back to 1999. Her study concluded that while most of Seattle's drug traffic involves whites, blacks are more likely to be arrested because the SPD focused on crack cocaine. Her conclusion: Seattle had one of the highest disparities between the drug-arrest rates of whites and blacks among the nation's mid-sized cities.

In March of 2008, Monfort earned his bachelor's degree. He was six months shy of 40. For so long, he had toyed with the idea of law school, or graduate school, or maybe getting a doctorate and becoming a history professor.

Instead, he continued driving trucks until last August, when he was fired for missing a delivery deadline. More than two months later, he was arrested for one of the most shocking attacks on police in the city's history.

"Taking things apart"

On a recent Wednesday evening, Monfort sat in a wheelchair on the seventh floor of the King County Jail. His left hand was handcuffed to the chair. He picked up the telephone receiver with his right and talked to a Seattle Times reporter on the other side of the glass.

Monfort asked if he could get paid to tell his story, with the money going to his mother. If she got paid, he said, he would "give up the goat" about the charges against him.

"My motivation is — my body is in decay. My time here may be shorter than others. I'm really motivated by doing something for my mom."

According to the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Monfort waged a one-man war against the Seattle police last October. He is accused of firebombing an SPD maintenance yard in a failed attempt to kill police, and leaving an American flag stabbed into the roof of a police car. A week later, on Halloween, he targeted two SPD officers in an assassination attempt, according to the prosecutor. Brenton was killed, and Sweeney, his training partner, was wounded.

When Monfort was arrested Nov. 6, he allegedly put a gun in an officer's face and pulled the trigger. It misfired, and Monfort was shot in the face and stomach. Police found a copy of the Constitution in his pocket.

Monfort has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which could carry the death penalty. His defense team is preparing a biography, including a mental-health evaluation, to try to persuade Satterberg not to seek capital punishment.

Monfort, himself, says he has never been depressed, but that he painted and played music if he "got the blues."

Told that The Seattle Times would not pay, Monfort declined to talk about the charges against him. But he said: "My intentions are the best for the city and the country. The things I'm accused of are selfless acts. I didn't get anything out of them. I'm not accused of robbing banks or stealing."

Monfort is paralyzed from the waist down. The right side of his face is dead; his right eye droops to a slit. He speaks out of the left side of his mouth, like he's mumbling a secret. He doesn't know the month. He forgets some words. "Of course, I've got some brain damage," he says. "I'm in constant pain." He says he takes anti-seizure medications, but few painkillers.

In the prosecution's theory of the case, Monfort retaliated for a recent case of alleged police brutality. At the bombed maintenance yard, police found a note referring to a highly publicized case in which an ex-King County sheriff's deputy, Paul Schene, was videotaped repeatedly punching a 15-year-old girl.

Monfort repeatedly brought up Schene: "To me, that's attempted murder. I don't see how you can see it any other way."

He cut short the interview, but a few weeks later invited the reporter back, writing, "Why don't you show up on Wed nite, I have a few ideas and would like to speak with you."

In this visit, he remains fixated on police misconduct. He cites cases across the country — in Detroit; Everett; San Bernardino, Calif., — in which police were accused of brutality. Violent crime nationwide has fallen, yet "we're still seeing a ridiculous amount of police brutality," he says.

Why? "The problem is not just with the police," he says. "The problem is with the citizens."

Monfort is scornful of citizens — "Tories among us," referring to supporters of the British monarchy — who lavish praise on police who "don't even do their jobs."

"We've got people who say police can do no wrong, 'Oooh, it's a tough job,' " Monfort says mockingly. "A tough job? If it's so hard, quit."

He also criticizes juries that twice failed to convict Schene. In both cases, juries deadlocked. The King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office recently said it would not try Schene a third time.

Monfort puts police misconduct in the context of the American Revolution, and salts the interview with references to Samuel Adams, the American Revolution-era Townshend Act (spelling the name out, correctly) and the exact order in which the signers of the Declaration of Independence inked their names.

"We ought not to lavish praise on the public official, but we should lavish praise on the Constitution," Monfort says, claiming to quote Adams' writings from a Colonial newspaper, the Public Advertiser.

Monfort says he was a lousy student before attending Highline. Referring to his failed effort to become a computer programmer, he says, "I was good at taking things apart, but only some of them worked when I put them back together."

He cited Ralph Nader as a modern hero, calling him the country's most "selfless citizen," and he referenced philosophers he studied while at the UW, Jeremy Bentham and Michel Foucault.

Near the end of the interview, Monfort says again his body is rapidly deteriorating, in part because he has a bullet lodged near his spine. Referring to the potential death-penalty decision, Monfort says, "You might as well kill me before I die."

He laughs harshly. "Now that's hilarious."

Staff reporters Ken Armstrong and Steve Miletich contributed to this report. Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com.

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