Paul Ebert fought back tears as he talked about his friend, North St Paul police officer Richard Crittenden who as killed in the line of duty on September 7. Ebert said that he knew officer Crittenden for 20 years read statement released by his family during a press conference held at City Hall in North St. Paul.

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

Officer died in a 'heroic' struggle

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG
  • Star Tribune
  • September 10, 2009 - 10:36 AM

Two police officers probably couldn't have imagined the 60 seconds of horror that lay ahead when they opened the door to apartment 101 at the Aspen Village apartments Monday morning.

But they handled it heroically.

Richard Crittenden and Julie Olson saved two women from a man who charged at them with a burning rag during a "very intense and very violent battle."

"The officers did not flinch, they did not retreat," said North St. Paul Police Chief Tom Lauth. "I can't say more for their heroic actions. You can't plan and say, 'I'm going to react this way.' They passed the true test of humanity there."

It started as the latest in a long string of domestic spats in a tumultuous relationship, and ended in a spray of 14 gunshots, a dead officer, a dead suspect, a wounded officer and two traumatized police departments. Details of the brief but violent encounter were first made public Wednesday.

Crittenden, the North St. Paul officer who was killed, and Olson, a Maplewood officer, met Stacey Terry, 39, and her teenage daughter about 8:30 a.m. Monday at the apartment at 2253 Skillman Av. in North St. Paul. The mother and daughter had been gone overnight, and they returned home worried that Terry's estranged husband, Devon Dockery, was waiting in ambush inside.

Dockery's rap sheet includes domestic abuse, terroristic threats and at least four orders for protection filed against him by Terry, who reported this year that Dockery had threatened to kill her.

Crittenden, 57, was the first to enter the apartment. Dockery, 34, charged at the group, armed with a flaming, accelerant-soaked rag, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Crittenden pushed Terry and her daughter into a kitchen and closet area.

Dockery struck Crittenden in the head with the burning rag, perhaps a T-shirt, and burned Crittenden, said Tim O'Malley, BCA superintendent.

"Despite his burn, he immediately and continuously battled Dockery," O'Malley said Wednesday.

Authorities said that Crittenden fought Dockery with Olson's help, moving the struggle into the living room. The burning rag dropped to the floor, setting a rug ablaze. Space was tight, O'Malley said, and the trio scuffled with little room to maneuver.

Somehow, Dockery managed to grab the 40-caliber handgun from Crittenden's waist holster while the two engaged in a hand-to-hand struggle, O'Malley said. Dockery fired one shot into Crittenden's head at close-range, killing him.

Dockery then turned the gun on Olson. The two exchanged gunfire at close-range. Authorities said a total of 14 shots were fired during the incident. Dockery was struck five times, including in his torso and leg.

One round squeezed by Dockery struck a magazine clip on Olson's belt, and fragments from an unidentified source struck Olson in her right forearm. Authorities don't know if the fragment was from the bullet Dockery fired, or a bullet in Olson's clip that exploded from the impact.

Maplewood police officer Lonn Bakke arrived, and he and Olson disarmed Dockery. From start to finish, the incident lasted between 30 seconds and a minute, O'Malley said.

Crittenden and Dockery were dead at the scene.

"That was a very fast-paced, very intense and very violent battle," said O'Malley, who described the officers' actions as "courageous and decisive." He said the officers acted responsibly and appropriately.

Authorities did not detail how Dockery obtained Crittenden's gun.

It is unclear if Dockery knew police officers were at the door when he rushed it with the burning rag, O'Malley said. Terry and her daughter, who is not Dockery's child, were not injured.

The officers had been called to deal with another violation of an order for protection. Dockery had been arrested May 18 and Aug. 26 for violating the order. Police also had responded to Terry's apartment Sunday, but Dockery had gone.

Since North St. Paul has a relatively small department and borders Maplewood, the departments often work together.

Maplewood Police Chief David Thomalla said that Olson plans to return to work when the investigation is complete. She is on paid administrative leave, which is standard in such cases.

Olson, who is involved in the department's Explorers program with youth, is doing well despite experiencing three of the most traumatic events an officer can live through, Thomalla said: witnessing another officer's death, being injured by a suspect and killing a suspect.

"Those are actions most officers don't have to deal with once in their careers," Thomalla said. "I am very proud of her actions."

Thomalla said that Olson, who is married and has a family, wanted to keep a low profile.

Crittenden's family has declined to comment, but his longtime friend, Paul Ebert, read a statement of gratitude from the family during a news conference Wednesday. Crittenden, a 9-year veteran of the force, leaves behind a son, stepdaughter, wife and four grandchildren, among other survivors.

"He was a guy that would bend over backwards to help you out," Ebert said. "I'm stunned, and I'm shocked. It's hard."

Ebert said Crittenden was always interested in becoming a police officer, even while he worked various jobs at a manufacturing plant and elsewhere. He also served as a deputy in Wabasha County. Crittenden enjoyed fishing, hunting and photography, Ebert said, and once surprised him by taking a portrait of Ebert's dogs and presenting it as a gift.

Younger officers often looked up to Crittenden, whose kindness belied his imposing physical presence, Lauth said.

Services for Crittenden will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Aldrich Arena, 1850 N. White Bear Av. in Maplewood. Visitation will take place today from 4 to 8 p.m. at Sandberg Funeral Home, 2539 E. 7th Av. in North St. Paul.

The city of North St. Paul has set up a memorial fund for Crittenden. Donations can be made at any Anchor Bank or sent to the North St. Paul branch at 2700 7th Av. E., North St. Paul, MN 55109. Checks should be made to the Richard Crittenden Memorial Fund.

Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.

Chao Xiong • 612-673-4391

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