Christopher Monfort is getting a television.
That simple and innocuous statement has sparked an outrage. If you are unfamiliar with the name and the context, or have trouble recalling, let me fill in the blanks.
November 6, 2009 was a cold, dry day. I remember parking my car and walking through a brisk wind as my path began crossing with a growing number of police officers. In tens, hundreds and then thousands, we filed en masse into the Key Arena for the memorial service of a Seattle police officer by the name of Timothy Brenton.
Just a few days prior, Brenton and his student officer, Britt Sweeney, were sitting in their patrol car on Halloween night when a man suddenly appeared out of the dark. From close range he began shooting into their vehicle, wounding Sweeney. Tim Brenton, a military veteran and father of two, died at the scene. He became the first of five police officers to die in the bloody killing season that continued into early 2010.
During Brenton’s memorial service we viewed pictures of a young man whose smile lit up the large screen; we laughed as his fellow crew members shared funny anecdotes and personal stories; we cried as family members described the good man who had been taken from them. Ironically, the seven day manhunt for his killer ended moments after the service with the news that a suspect, Christopher Monfort, had been arrested.
Monfort, 44, was soon charged with homicide, and King County Prosecutor Dan Satteberg announced he would seek the death penalty. Monfort now awaits his trial, scheduled for this time next year, in solitary confinement at the King County jail. He is isolated in a medical cell due to the paralysis brought on by a bullet wound he received in his 2009 arrest.
Which brings us to the controversial announcement (Trib 10/20), by jail director Claudia Balducci, that Christopher Monfort will get a television set for his cell. She cited humanitarian reasons for the unprecedented decision, a statement which provoked an immediate and angry backlash from the friends, colleagues and family members of Monfort’s alleged victim, Officer Timothy Brenton.
And they are mad as hell. Nearing the third anniversary of his death, the Seattle police guild president, Rich O’Neill, spoke for many when he stated that Balducci’s concern for Monfort’s loneliness was an insult to the fallen officer’s family.
But is this controversy really about a simple, innocuous statement about a television? Of course not.
This is about the inequity of loss. Pain and grief inevitably follow violent crime, and these are costs paid by the victims or the family they left behind. The suspects, who may have little remorse for their actions, may go to jail. There, while they await trial, they receive free medical care and maybe, just maybe, a television.
I do not like Balducci’s decision. As much as I dislike it, however, I cannot condemn it. The one undeniable truth that prevents me is that Christopher Monfort, like every other individual who stands before our courts, remains innocent until he is proven guilty. Despite that he is in custody on strong evidence that he killed a police officer, or that his paralysis is the alleged result of his bungled attempt to kill another officer while trying to escape custody, the jail’s neutral concern for his well being is simply an impartial exercise of our system of justice.
That is and should be the case, at least until a jury of Monfort’s peers, after reviewing the evidence in a fair and open trial, should find him guilty of killing Officer Timothy Brenton on October 31, 2009.
If and when that occurs, we will be well past this discussion. Until then, let Monfort have his TV.