Brian G. Fitch Sr., a career criminal, was already wanted by authorities before he was shot by police and arrested in the killing of a Mendota Heights officer.
Brian G. Fitch Sr. knew he was headed back to jail — and mostly likely to prison — if he was ever stopped for even a minor traffic infraction and police figured out his identity.
Shortly after noon Wednesday, when a Mendota Heights police officer stopped Fitch as he drove through West St. Paul, he had three active warrants for his arrest: One stemming from a conviction for a violent home burglary, one from a conviction for terroristic threats and assault and another from June, when he failed to appear at a court hearing on first-degree drug charges.
Now, in the aftermath of the shooting death Wednesday of Scott Patrick, the officer who stopped him, Fitch, a 39-year-old career criminal, will be facing new charges in both Dakota and Ramsey counties.
Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi plan to hold a joint news conference at 2 p.m. Friday in Dakota County to announce charges against Fitch in Patrick’s death and for his alleged shootout with officers in St. Paul Wednesday night in the minutes before his capture. The news conference will be held at the Dakota County Northern Service Center in West St. Paul.
The shooting of Patrick, 47, and the gunfight with police hours later, are the latest in a series of violent incidents involving Fitch that date back 15 years and include everything from assault and terrorist threats to kidnapping, court records show.
The state Department of Corrections said Thursday that Fitch served almost three years in prison, from 2000 to 2003, for a 1999 assault conviction. Sarah Latuseck, a corrections spokeswoman, said that in 2000, Fitch was convicted of escape. Details of those charges were not available Thursday.
Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton was an Oakdale police captain when he arrested Fitch in August 2003 after a home invasion in that city. “I just remember it being a very aggressive call, very violent,” Hutton said Thursday.
According to the criminal complaint, Fitch and another man and a woman burst into the home at 3:40 a.m. as the woman who owned the home slept in her bedroom. Her three children were asleep on the living room floor.
Another man was also in the home and still awake. Fitch, holding a knife, ordered the man to open a safe. Fitch ripped two necklaces from the man’s neck and beat him.
In 2004, Fitch was convicted of first-degree burglary and given a stayed 41-month prison sentence in connection with the crime.
Over the next 10 years, he served about 20 months in custody that was applied to that sentence.
He committed probation violations in 2010 and 2011, but it wasn’t until June 2013 that he was sent to prison.
He was released to Dakota County on an unresolved first-degree drug case on Feb. 5, 2014, and sent to a residential treatment center later that month.
Latuseck said Thursday that Fitch was still on supervised release from the state Department of Corrections in June, when he violated conditions of his release. A warrant was issued June 2 for his arrest. Fitch was a fugitive until police arrested him Wednesday night.
The second warrant issued dates to a violent incident in 2012 in West St. Paul, where Fitch kidnapped a man at knife point and beat him after accusing him of having a relationship with his girlfriend. Fitch threatened to cut the man’s throat from ear to ear, then stripped him of his clothes and money and left him on the West Side of St. Paul, court records said.
He was charged with terroristic threats, assault and false imprisonment. He pleaded guilty to terroristic threats and fifth-degree assault and was given a stayed 36-month prison sentence.
He served a total of less than a year for that offense. When he failed to show up for a probation violation hearing on June 26, a warrant was issued for his arrest.
A third warrant stems from Fitch’s failure to show for a court hearing on charges dating to January 2013, when he allegedly was caught with a large amount of methamphetamine.
Scattered among those felonies are 22 lesser crimes dating from 1985 to 2012 that include tampering with an auto, driving after revocation, auto theft, fleeing police, petty theft and obstruction.
Officials couldn’t say Thursday why Fitch wasn’t incarcerated at the time Patrick was shot. Although he had been one of the subjects of the Department of Correction’s special investigations, which works with local and state law enforcement agencies to apprehend fugitives, since June, he apparently had flown under law enforcement’s radar.
Handgun in vehicle
Patrick was shot to death about 12:20 p.m. Wednesday on Dodd Road near Smith Avenue S. in West St. Paul. The officer, alone in his squad car, was making a routine traffic stop when he was killed, West St. Paul police Lt. Brian Sturgeon said.
Acting on a tip, police encountered Fitch and a woman later identified as Kelly Lee Hardy, 36, of Maplewood, on E. Sycamore Street in St. Paul about eight hours later.
Fitch was seen leaving the area in an SUV-type vehicle, said St. Paul police Sgt. Paul Paulos.
As police moved in to stop him, they say Fitch pointed a handgun and fired several rounds at officers, who fired back, striking Fitch several times.
Police later found a handgun in the SUV that Fitch was driving. Authorities have sent the gun to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for testing to determine whether it was used to kill Patrick.
“This was really a traumatic day,” Paulos said at a news conference Thursday. “We could have lost a lot more guys, but we didn’t.”
Paulos identified the officers who fired at Fitch as Erik Johnson, a 13-year veteran of the St. Paul force, and Timothy Bohn, a 16-year veteran. A Minneapolis officer and two other St. Paul officers are identity-protected because they are working in an undercover assignment. All the officers are on administrative leave, which is standard procedure after a shooting.
Authorities also said Thursday that Fitch was in serious condition at Regions Hospital. Hardy, who also was shot but not in custody, was listed in fair condition at Regions with noncritical injuries.
Hardy’s role “is undetermined,” Paulos said. “She is possibly a witness in this matter.”
Meanwhile, West St. Paul’s Sturgeon confirmed at the news conference that a man pursued by officers on Interstate 494 into Woodbury on Wednesday afternoon in the hours after the shooting of Patrick had no connection to the case.
“This individual was driving a very similar vehicle,” Sturgeon said. “He made an irrational move in front of law enforcement, which started the pursuit. He made a bad decision on a bad day.”
While authorities continued to investigate the circumstances surrounding Patrick’s death, his family planned for a funeral.
A visitation and service for Patrick, the father of two from Mendota Heights, are being planned at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in West St. Paul. The dates and times will be announced Friday, state officials said.
Patrick was the most senior member of the Mendota Heights force. He’d worked for the city since 1995, mostly as a day shift patrol officer.
Patrick was the first Mendota Heights police officer killed in the line of duty.
The next most recent death of an on-duty Minnesota police officer occurred in February 2013, when St. Paul officer Josh Lynaugh died of a heart attack while chasing a juvenile on foot.
Star Tribune staff writers Kevin Giles and Nicole Norfleet contributed to this report. Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284