Suspect in police shooting knew he was likely headed back to prison

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 1, 2014 - 12:17 PM

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.

More war­rants

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.”

Services pend­ing

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

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