Brian Fitch Sr. was charged with murder in the shooting death of Mendota Heights officer Scott Patrick.
Lying in a St. Paul hospital bed with eight gunshot wounds after a shootout with police, Brian Fitch Sr. allegedly told the officer guarding him: “Just to let you know, I hate cops and I’m guilty.”
That chilling comment came hours after Fitch, a career criminal, allegedly shot and killed Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick after a traffic stop Wednesday in West St. Paul, according to murder charges filed against Fitch on Friday.
Fitch, 39, of Mendota Heights, was charged in Dakota County District Court with two counts of first-degree murder. He had three warrants out for his arrest when he allegedly shot Patrick in the leg, abdomen and head.
In Ramsey County District Court, Fitch was also charged in the standoff with police in St. Paul later Wednesday that ended with his arrest. There, he faces three counts of first-degree attempted murder, three counts of dangerous-weapon-drive-by shooting, three counts of second-degree assault and one count of possession of a pistol or assault weapon.
Friday night, Patrick’s wife, Michelle, addressed a large crowd of neighbors, friends and total strangers looking to pay respects. She held back tears and clutched her two daughters as she expressed her gratitude for the outpouring of support.
“You all provide us with the hope that we’ll somehow find a way to eventually climb out of this stunned grief we feel,” she said. “We hear you. We feel you. We really appreciate everything.”
The charges were filed as Patrick’s family firmed up plans for his funeral, to be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in West St. Paul. Visitation will be held at the church from 2 to 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Up to 3,000 officers are expected to attend the funeral.
“This is a very difficult time, as it would be for any of us losing a family member so quickly and violently,” said the Rev. Cassie Nault of St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, where Patrick and his family have been longtime parishioners. “It’s a shock.”
The mourning for Patrick, the most senior member of the Mendota Heights force, began the moment he was cut down on the job. Public memorials at the shooting site and at Mendota Heights City Hall continued to grow and draw visitors over the past three days. At a news conference Friday where authorities discussed the criminal cases against Fitch, officers wore black bands over their badges in a united show of grief.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said at that news conference that he and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi will convene a joint grand jury in the case. Backstrom said the step “is not used often.” Dakota County did it once in the 1990s. This would be the first time for Ramsey County, Backstrom said.
Convening a joint grand jury, made up of citizens from both counties, will allow prosecutors to combine several crimes into a single, joint prosecution, Backstrom said. If a grand jury returns indictments, the Dakota County attorney’s office will lead the case. Both offices would designate a lead prosecutor to work on the case.
Asked why Fitch had been free given his lengthy record of committing violent crimes, Backstrom said that his prosecutor asked for prison time for Fitch in a recent Dakota County case, but the judge sentenced him to the 211 days he had served in jail. He then placed him on probation and ordered him to participate in a drug rehabilitation program.
“Hindsight is always 20-20,” Backstrom said. “I can tell you we take violent criminals seriously in our community. … We do our best under oftentimes difficult circumstances.”
The deadly stop
A half-hour before the news conference Friday, Fitch was scheduled to undergo abdominal surgery at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where he is expected to remain for another week. A woman who was in the SUV with him at the time of the shootout with police also was wounded, and she was taken to Regions with noncritical injuries.
According to the murder charges: Fitch fired at Patrick as the officer approached him during a traffic stop about 12:20 p.m. Wednesday on Dodd Road near Smith Avenue S. in West St. Paul.
When Patrick stopped the car, he wouldn’t have known who was driving it before looking at a driver’s license — something he never got the chance to do, Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows said Friday. Quickly obtained license plate information can reveal the car’s registered owner, although the driver may be someone else.