A officer with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension photographs an vechicle that was driven by a Mendota Heights Police officer who was shot during a traffic stop in West St. Paul on July 30.
Photo credit: AP Photo/The St. Paul Pioneer Press, Ben Garvin
Mendota Heights Officer Scott Patrick
Photo credit: Courtesy Photo
A routine traffic stop midday Wednesday ended with gunshots that felled Mendota Heights' most veteran police officer. Eight hours later, during a massive manhunt for officer Scott Patrick's killer, police said the suspect opened fire on St. Paul officers, who shot back.
Brian George Fitch Sr. and a woman in the car he was driving were injured.
Fitch, 39, is a career criminal who was already a wanted fugitive -- he left prison in February, and a Minnesota Department of Corrections warrant was issued for him in June.
Patrick, 47, was married and had two teenage daughters. He was about two blocks into West St. Paul when he was fatally wounded at Dodd Road and Smith Avenue, a busy area where many people heard the shots about 12:20 p.m.
At a nearby Holiday convenience store, two bikers, a father and son, saw the traffic stop as they were pumping gas into their motorcycles. They said Patrick went to the driver's side window, and the driver quickly fired three shots and sped away.
"It happened immediately. The officer got out of his car, walked to the window, and that was it. There was not even words exchanged," said the elder biker, who asked that his name not be published because he knew of the reputation of some of Fitch's associates. "The car was speeding off before officer Patrick hit the ground."
The father and son ran to the officer, who was lying on his right side, a wound on the right side of his head. Patrick seemed to breath once or twice, before two nurses arrived and began to compress his chest. Authorities said he was pronounced dead at Regions Hospital.
Patrick's handgun was still holstered and buckled.
"I've talked to officer Patrick so many times. He was a clown, good to talk to, made you laugh," the father said. "To see this today. ..." He paused and shook his head.
"He was a damn good cop, by all means, and I don't even like cops," the younger biker said. "You know when you're in school and you have one of those teachers that always seems to sincerely care? He was that guy."
When the two were riding in a squad car, and saw Fitch's name come up on a screen as the shooter, both looked at each other and shook their heads.
The father had met Fitch in Cherokee Heights Elementary School, and later Humboldt High, on St. Paul's West Side.
Back then, Fitch had a reputation of being "not the one to f--- with," the father said -- and now, he was known as somebody who dealt "anything and everything that would sell," from drugs to firearms.
Fitch had three years of supervised release to go on a burglary conviction and had stopped seeing his parole officer, the father said.
When others in their social circle heard who it was, "Nobody was real surprised that he did it," he added.
After the shooting, another family member who spoke to Fitch on the phone told the father and son that Fitch said, "Watch for fireworks. It's gonna be like the Fourth" of July.
As police in SWAT gear searched on the West Side for Fitch on Wednesday night -- surrounding a duplex where Fitch's grandmother lives -- they received a tip that he was in the North End, in the 30 block of East Sycamore Street.
Responding officers saw Fitch driving in the area of Rice and Sycamore streets and he tried to evade them, pulling into a parking lot around 8 p.m., police said.
A police vehicle pulled in front of Fitch, an officer started opening his door and Fitch opened fire, police said. Officers returned fire, striking Fitch and a woman in his car. Both were taken to Regions Hospital -- the woman had non-life-threatening injuries and Fitch's condition wasn't immediately known.
Police said they weren't looking for additional suspects at this time.
Patrick joined the Mendota Heights Police Department in 1995.
"He was a very dedicated police officer and a family man who absolutely adored his children," Mendota Heights Police Chief Mike Aschenbrener said. "It's going to be a very trying time for them. He cared deeply about the city of Mendota Heights and it's going to be a very tough time for the Mendota Heights Police Department."
Many people reported hearing the shots that felled Patrick.
Mike Youness was in his home, heard the shots and went outside. He walked about 120 yards to where a Mendota Heights police SUV was at the side of the road with its door open. An officer was lying on the ground with a severe head injury, Youness said. A woman who Youness believes was a nurse attempted to revive Patrick.
"She said it was futile," Youness said. "He was already gone. ... This is very sad. A guy leaves for work and then look what happens."
Mike Lowe was walking his dog when he heard three gunshots, looked over and saw the officer "crumple to the ground."
Fitch lives in the South St. Paul/West St. Paul area, police said. He was out of prison on supervised release for a burglary conviction from Washington County.
Fitch has a lengthy criminal history, including convictions for theft, escaping custody and fleeing from police officers. His most recent conviction was last spring, when he was sentenced for terroristic threats and fifth-degree assault for an incident dating back to 2012.
Patrick was the first Mendota Heights officer killed in the line of duty. Mendota Heights is a city of 11,000, and the police department's authorized strength is 17 officers.
"It's a hard day for all of Mendota Heights," said Mendota Heights City Council member Ultan Duggan. "You think this will never happen to you and then out of the blue ... boom here is what happens."
The last law enforcement officer to be slain in the line of duty in Minnesota was Cold Spring police officer Tom Decker, 31, who was shot to death in an ambush on Nov. 29, 2012. The suspect killed himself two months later.
The last law enforcement officer to be slain in the line of duty in the Twin Cities was Maplewood police Sgt. Joseph Bergeron, 49, who was shot to death in an ambush in St. Paul on May 1, 2010. A St. Paul police officer fatally shot the killer during an ensuing manhunt. An accomplice pleaded guilty and remains in prison.
Nearly 20 years ago, on Aug. 26, 1994, St. Paul police officer Ron Ryan Jr. was fatally shot on the East Side and the suspect ambushed and killed officer Timothy Jones during the manhunt on the same day. Their killer was later convicted and remains in prison.
Copyright 2014 - Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.
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