Looking for answers in officer's death

  • Article by: CHRIS HAVENS and MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 8, 2009 - 6:58 AM

A North St. Paul police officer is killed and a Maplewood officer is wounded responding to a domestic call Monday morning.

Officer Richard Crittenden was about 90 minutes into his shift Monday morning when the call came for him to head to a familiar trouble spot.

Just the day before, police had gone to the same unit at the Aspen Village apartments in North St. Paul for a domestic disturbance. Crittenden, not wanting to take any chances, called for and received backup from an officer in neighboring Maplewood.

The pair arrived at the first-floor apartment at 2253 Skillman Av. E. about 8:30 and confronted suspect Devon Dockery, a man authorities knew all too well.

His latest run-in with the law would prove deadly.

Within minutes of the officers' arrival there was a struggle, and then Crittenden was dead from a gunshot and his partner was wounded in the arm. Dockery also was dead.

Hours later, as investigators were piecing together how the confrontation so quickly turned into gunfire, officers tearfully saluted as Crittenden's body was removed from the apartment to a waiting hearse.

"Unfortunately, we respond to so many of [domestic disturbances], we may develop a certain nonchalance," Tom Lauth, the four-year North St. Paul police chief, told reporters at a late-afternoon news conference on the City Hall steps. "This morning's incident typifies how quickly that can change.''

Crittenden, 57, is the first North St. Paul officer to die in the line of duty. He had been on the force for nine years; before that he was a deputy in Wabasha County. He was a husband, a father and a grandfather.

The Maplewood officer wasn't identified by officials, but they said she was treated at Regions Hospital and released.

"In my opinion, she assisted Officer Crittenden to the best of her ability and did what needed to be done," said Maplewood Police Chief David Thomalla.

Dockery was suspected of violating a restraining order; a woman called police Monday morning to make the report.

Court and jail records indicate that North St. Paul police had arrested and jailed Dockery in May and again in late August on charges that he was violating the order.

The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating, which is common in shootings involving officers.

"There was a fine officer lost today, and it didn't have to happen," said Dave Bjerga, an assistant BCA superintendent.

He said the scene was chaotic. Two witnesses were being interviewed, he said.

Sunny sky, somber scene

Earlier in the day, onlookers gathered around the yellow police tape that held them back from the crime scene.

The apartments are a few blocks north and east of North St. Paul's border with Maplewood. North St. Paul, a suburb of about 11,000 residents, has 19 sworn officers. Maplewood, with about 36,000 residents, has 55.

Officers from several east metro agencies -- Roseville, Ramsey County, Oakdale -- showed up to help and offer support, a gentle squeeze of the arm or a hug.

In the late-afternoon breeze, a black hearse belonging to the Ramsey County medical examiner's officer pulled into the parking lot of the apartment building.

More than 50 members of various law-enforcement agencies and fire departments gathered by the back door of the building to provide privacy.

They formed two lines, and when Crittenden's body was brought out, each bent their right arm in salute to honor their fallen brother as his body was placed into the hearse.

As tears flowed, North St. Paul officers in two squads escorted the hearse down the street.

Autopsies will provide some answers but little consolation.

Lauth said Crittenden's death had left the small department stunned, and after the press briefing the department's officers who were standing with Lauth simply went back into City Hall and declined to answer questions about their fallen comrade.

Said Lauth: "We have a very difficult week in front of us."

Staff writers Lora Pabst, Kevin Giles, Paul Walsh and Tim Harlow contributed to this report.

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