OFFICER JAMES C. BRIZENDINE – EOW: 7-21-1955
By: Officer Mike Severance #2866
The G & R Grocery was once located around the 4100 block of Roosevelt Way. The owner, Vic, always had a pot of Italian food for Seattle’s finest. It was a favorite spot for Seattle officers to take their meal and coffee breaks. Shortly after midnight on July 21, 1955, Officer James C. “Briz” Brizendine, 32, was enjoying some Italian food with his partner, Officer William Lance, and other officers including Officer Emil Drovetto. Shortly after leaving and around 1:00 a.m., Brizendine and Lance were dispatched to a prowler call at 4227 4 Ave. NE. Mrs. Rosanne Seydel had seen a prowler in her back yard.
Officer Lance was driving. He dropped off Brizendine on 4 Ave. NE near the address. Brizendine did not take his uniform hat with him when he got out of the patrol car. SPD uniforms at that time were all navy blue, shirts and pants.
After dropping off Brizendine, Lance drove around to the back. As he entered Mrs. Seydel’s back yard, he heard a shot and screaming. After calling the police about the prowler, Mrs. Seydel had called some of her neighbors, including Renato Bellotti who lived next door at 4233 4 Ave. NE. A short time later, Bellotti looked out his kitchen window and saw Brizendine in his back yard with a flashlight. Bellotti got his shotgun and stood by the kitchen window. Brizendine moved towards the house. When he got to within six feet of the kitchen window, Bellotti raised his shotgun and fired one shot. Brizendine yelled, “Don’t shoot. I’m the police”, but it was too late. Officer Brizendine was shot in the abdomen and chest.
Officer Lance rushed to his partner’s side. Bellotti ran into the back yard and told Lance he had just shot a prowler. Officer Lance informed him that he had just shot a police officer. Officer Brizendine was rushed to King County Hospital. He died at 1:45 a.m. Bellotti told police that he did not recognize Brizendine as a police officer. He stated he had thought, “It was him or me”.
Officer James C. Brizendine was survived by his wife, Edna, and two daughters, Edith and Bunneta. His funeral was held on July 27, 1955 at the Greenwood Masonic Temple. Officer Brizendine was buried in Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery.
Renato Bellotti was charged with Manslaughter. He pled guilty. Following the recommendation of the Seattle Police Department and the Prosecuting Attorney, the court deferred his sentencing for three years on the condition that he possessed no firearms during that time.
James Coda Brizendine was born on November 3, 1922 in Richmond, Missouri. By 1930, the family was living in Pueblo, CO. James enlisted in the U.S. Navy in April 1941. He served on several ships during WW II including the battleship USS Nevada, BB-36. The USS Nevada was the only battleship able to get under way during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He stayed in the Navy into the early 1950’s. James married his wife, Edna, on December 7, 1948. He was commissioned as a Seattle Police Officer in January 1954, and was a member of Academy Class #30. At the time of his death, the family lived at 3857 E. 89th St. Edna Brizendine never re-married. She died in Seattle in 1977. She is buried with her husband at Evergreen-Washelli. His daughter, Bunnetia, died in 2012. Edith Brizendine died in 1992. As of 2013, Officer Brizendine’s grandson, James, who was named after him, resided in Brier. Officer Brizendine’s death was a factor in changing the color of the uniform shirt to light blue.
In May 1998, Officer James C. Brizendine was one of forty Seattle Police Officers, killed between 1881 and 1977, who were posthumously awarded the Washington Law Enforcement Medal of Honor. A sworn member of SPD had been tasked with locating surviving families of our Fallen, and he had from 1995 to 1998 to do it. He managed to locate four surviving families who attended the 1998 presentation ceremony. After 1998, the Department made no effort to locate surviving families of the other thirty-six officers. Officer Brizendine’s daughter, Bunneta, was alive in 1998, but was not contacted by the Department in regards to the medal or the presentation ceremony. Officer Brizendine’s medal gathered dust at the Seattle Police Department from 1998 until January 30, 2014 when twenty surviving families of our 1998 Medal of Honor recipients finally received the officers’ medals. James Kerschbaum, Officer Brizendine’s grandson, was presented with his Medal of Honor.
Here is a historical side note on Seattle’s fallen officers reflecting on how they were respected and honored by all. The first Law Enforcement Memorial Day in the history of Seattle was held on June 10, 1913. It was called “Memorial and Decoration Day”. There was a ceremony held at the Seattle Theatre at 700 3RD Ave. Seattle’s elected officials were in attendance along with most of the SPD. That service was followed by a parade to Pike Street. At the end of the parade, delegations travelled by car to the various cemeteries where the officers’ graves were decorated with flowers. The Seattle Police Department solicited the citizens of Seattle to donate those flowers, and the people came through with lots and lots of flowers.