(WSB photo by Patrick Sand)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
In the second of two back-to-back sentencings involving high-profile West Seattle cases, King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer has just sentenced 19-year-old Trevonnte Brown, whose robbery spree aboard a RapidRide bus in Morgan Junction last November ended when passengers grabbed and tackled him.
Brown was sentenced to the recommended 13 1/2 years total – 8 1/2 for the robberies, 5 mandatory years for using a gun – not only for the bus robberies that night but also for another robbery on board a Metro bus earlier that month (not in West Seattle). And prosecutor Alex Voorhees noted that the defendant had told police that he participated in “numerous” strong-arm robberies.
Over the objection of the defense lawyer, she played the video of the bus holdup for the judge, from the moment it showed Brown rising from his seat and pointing his gun at people to demand their phones, to the pileup that followed, restraining Brown and taking away his gun, after one of the victims, Casey Borgen, grabbed his arm. The video continued to roll as a woman called 911, with at least three men keeping Brown down, who could be heard yelling that they were hurting him. A shorter form of the video was shown on citywide TV last year, including this KING5.com clip:
The video continued rolling in court until the point where police entered the bus. They were heard to call the guys who restrained Brown as heroes; Voorhees pointed out that Brown continued acting “abusive(ly)” as he was taken away, including doing damage to a police car. (pleaded guilty last month.)
Voorhees mentioned that Brown had confessed but that she was struck “by the lack of remorse” shown by Brown, who she says told investigators he had been “committing robberies since high school … he acknowledged that these three incidents we have before the court today are by no means the first foray … (though perhaps) the most extreme” because he used a gun.
She said he talked about procuring the gun, about his victims and how they looked as he robbed them, and said this was how he got income because he had trouble holding a job (at one job, she said, he had stolen from his co-workers). She said he was asked if he felt bad about his victims and said no, also saying he had their lives in his hands. “He created an absolute scene of havoc on that bus.”
None of the victims came to court to speak, with at least one citing fear, said the prosecutor. Nor did any of the men involved in the takedown came to court – not out of fear, Voorhees suggested, but “because they are at work, and have moved on with their lives.” She then said everyone on the bus was a victim, perhaps thinking twice about getting on a bus again, making themselves vulnerable. As part of the no-contact orders that usually accompany sentences, she asked that he be barred from contact with King County Metro, to “never be allowed to ride the bus again.”
Speaking on behalf of the defendant, first, was his brother, saying his family “are all apologetic for the choice he made.”
“You’re not at fault for that,” noted Judge Shaffer.
The brother acknowledged that but went on to say that the family is sorry that people were traumatized by his brother’s actions. He then was speaking more to his brother than to the judge, advising him to stay positive and hold his head high and to be “a better person when you come out.”
His 17-year-old sister spoke next: “The person you see on the video is not my brother.” Next, his aunt spoke, saying she believes he “has taken full responsibility. … he made some terrible decisions, terrible choices … but he is a good child overall. … he is very remorseful now, and even if he wasn’t looking at this much time, he would be remorseful.” She was followed by his great-aunt, saying, “he’s never been in trouble, and when I heard the incident that happened, it really shocked me …” She spoke of being helped by him in times of family difficulties years ago, and of going to church with him, and wondering if perhaps drugs or coercion led him down the path. “I’m not making excuses for him, everyone has to pay for what they do, but …” she felt the prospective sentence was excessive. “… I hope he learns from this, and I know he will.”
And then, Judge Shaffer heard from Brown’s mother. “I would have never expected to be in this type of situation with my son, who’s never given me a problem,” she said before breaking into sobs, going on to say she doesn’t know why he did what he did, “but I know he didn’t mean to hurt anybody …” and pointed out that there were no bullets in the gun. She insisted “my son … is very remorseful.” She said she had warned him he was hanging around with people he shouldn’t have been. Then, to him: “We’re disappointed in you, but we love you nonetheless … It’s going to be OK, you know?” Brown replied from across the bench, “Yes.” Finally, the judge heard words of support from a 16-year-old cousin who said Brown had always been a role model for him.
Brown’s lawyer Hal Palmer then said his client “made a very tragic decision at 19 years old.” He noted that the video forced the family to see what Brown had done. But he contended that it did not represent the “utter remorse” he said his client feels. After he mentioned “utter remorse” again, Judge Shaffer noted there’s a difference “between accountability and remorse.”
Brown himself spoke briefly, saying he wanted to apologize to “my family and myself … I’ve learned through this experience.”
Then, Judge Shaffer: “I often have people in front of me with significant issues going on in their lives” – drugs, alcohol, broken families – but “here I have a young man who had … family support. I have not just one impulsive event, but a week’s worth of impulsive events in front of me.” She referred to the first cell-phone robbery, in which Brown fought the victim for the phone, then an “uncharged” visit to a Tukwila restaurant in which items were stolen from workers there, and then finally the RapidRide robberies: “The first thing is, Mr. Brown got himself a gun before he got on the bus. Second thing, he is so cool calm and calculated as he moves throughout the bus ….” She mentions him sticking his gun in the second robbery target’s face when that man reacted; then she mentions what it was like to see Borger’s fast reaction, “heartstopping.” And as others run out, she said she knows they were afraid. All so Brown could pay off an impound bill for his car: “There’s no good reason for this, none. … it’s inexcusable behavior, Mr. Brown, you terrorized these people.”
She went with the state’s recommendation, 102 months (with other concurrent sentences) plus five years for firearm use, 162 months total, followed by 18 months of community custody (in essence, probation).