The first call to police came shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday: Three men were randomly stabbed outside the Nordstrom flagship store in downtown Seattle. The suspect was on the run and taking off his clothes.
The first victim was targeted as he walked down the street – after the suspect stabbed himself in the chest – and then police said he cut another man’s neck. The third victim was then stabbed in the back before the suspect allegedly threw the knife into a FedEx truck.
“He just started screaming,” said witness Richard Johnson, who helped police track the suspect. “And then he started running up Pike Street.”
When police caught the suspect near Eighth Avenue and Olive Way, they recognized a repeat offender. Christopher Russell Morisette, 29, has a history of mental health-related and drug-related attacks. He’s described himself as a homeless, schizophrenic drug user who went crazy after losing his job.
Morisette has a history of random victims. The Department of Corrections classified him as a highly violent offender, and prosecutors were concerned that Morisette was highly likely to reoffend.
If Morisette had received the maximum sentence in his most recent Seattle Municipal Court case, he could have been in jail Tuesday.
Yet, in that case a judge went below a prosecutor’s recommended sentence, and Morisette was soon back on the streets.
Morisette, who has ties to Whatcom County and said he graduated in 2008 from Bellingham High School, has at least 22 arrests. His Washington Courts record lists 33 cases going back to January 2009.
Most are in Bellingham Municipal or Whatcom County District Court, though Morisette also had cases in Blaine, Sedro-Woolley and, beginning in 2017, King County. His criminal history includes arrests for assault, burglary, a felony vehicle prowling case, theft, malicious mischief and trespassing, among other offenses.
Both prosecutors and police raised concerns about his bizarre behavior. In 2017, Morisette tried to enter a woman’s home in South Seattle after she opened her basement door. As she was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, Morisette turned the doorknob.
Police arrived within two minutes and found Morisette armed with two BB guns tucked into his waistband. Officers described Morisette as belligerent, uncooperative and angry.
At the jail, Morisette slipped out of handcuffs twice while in a holding cell. “On the second occasion, he pulled out a box cutter that had been concealed in his clothing,” according to charging documents.
Morisette told a court worker that he used “all drugs,” suffered from “every mental illness.”
Prosecutors -- who noted that Morisette was homeless with no friends, no job and no family in King County – argued for a high bail in a 2017 case because they believed Morisette was a flight risk and “presents a significant safety risk to the community.”
The Department of Corrections classified Morisette as highly violent.
As part of the case, Morisette was committed to Western State Hospital, the state’s largest psychiatric hospital, in August 2017. He was released the following October after being sentenced in Mental Health Court.
Last November, Morisette was at Swedish’s First Hill Campus for an involuntary mental evaluation when staff said he tried to fight another patient. A nurse intervened, and Morisette attacked the nurse’s neck before being pinned to a gurney, according to police, who recognized him as a repeat offender.
Morisette claimed it never happened and that security attacked him. The crisis responder who had evaluated Morisette told police he was schizophrenic and off his meds. Morisette was likely to continue his disposition unless he got mental health treatment, police were told.
The crisis responder didn’t know how long Morisette would be at the hospital before a bed was available at a nearby psych facility – but said Morisette could still get mental health evaluations and treatment from jail.
A responding officer told Swedish staff Morisette was being taken to jail to prevent further violence and because of his behavioral history. He was booked into jail shortly before sunrise on November 15.
Less than three weeks later, Morisette was at a West Seattle mental health facility when staff said he fought with another patient. When a woman tried to stop him, Morisette punched her in the face.
Morisette claimed it was self-defense. His doctor said he wanted Morisette back in jail.
He had a mental health evaluation conducted by the state in December, which also included details from a 2012 evaluation.
In those interviews with state psychologists, Morisette said he was born in Tacoma -- one of three kids -- but didn’t have contact with his parents. Outpatient mental health services “help more than I expected,” he said, and also spoke vaguely of two inpatient hospitalizations.
Morisette alleged a history of physical and sexual abuse. He said he was kicked out of his housing in June 2018 and said in 2012 that he “went crazy” after losing his one retail job.
At times, Morisette said he took all kinds of drugs. Last December, he either denied using specific drugs or told the evaluator his answers were classified.
Jail records after the Nov. 15 assault arrest showed ecstasy and methamphetamine were found in a urine analysis.
Despite his mental health concerns, the evaluation showed Morisette “has the current capacity to have a rational understanding of the nature of the proceedings again him and the capacity to assist in his defense.”
His case moved forward.
The Seattle City Attorney’s Office recommended 90 days in jail and 24 months probation, along with chemical dependency and mental health treatment. As part of the guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the charge for assaulting the nurse.
Instead, pro tem Judge Mary Lynch sentenced Morisette to 45 days in jail, including 18 days credit for time served, and gave probation.
He was ordered to comply with mental health treatment as well as chemical dependency treatment with the Department of Corrections. Morisette was ordered not to use drugs or alcohol -- and to not possess any weapons.
Morisette was released on New Year’s Day 2019.
Police said Morisette was armed with a folding knife Tuesday morning when he approached the three strangers near the Nordstrom flagship store in downtown Seattle.
One of the victims, a 79-year-old Nordstrom valet, remained in Harborview Medical Center's intensive care unit Tuesday night in serious condition. A second victim, also in his 70s, was discharged.
The third man, who was cut in his forearm, is in his 50s and declined additional medical attention.
“You hear about that kind of stuff, but when you see people just getting stabbed – just one after the other just right in front of you – it’s something I’ll never forget,” Johnson said.
“I couldn’t believe how casually he was stabbing people. It was awful.”
Morisette was naked when officers captured him near Eighth Avenue and Olive Way, less than 10 minutes after attack that was reported at 10:07 a.m. Onlookers watched from a Metro bus as Morisette sat in the back of a police van.
At a Wednesday afternoon bail hearing, Morisette gazed at the gallery as he walked into the courtroom. The prosecutor outlined Morisette's violent history in asking for a high bail, and King County District Court Judge Art Chapman agreed on $750,000.
Morisette appeared to kiss or rest his face on the desk in front of him at the end of his hearing.
“It is very concerning for us,” Seattle Police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said of the unprovoked attack. “We’re very heartened that the suspect is in custody. We will be working with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to ensure that this suspect receives the full weight of the law.”
See video from Morisette's Wednesday afternoon bail hearing below.
See Chopper 7 video from the scene below:
Related news from KIRO 7
Related news from KIRO 7
© 2020 Cox Media Group