A 39-year-old career criminal suspected of killing a Mendota Heights police officer was shot and wounded by police late Wednesday after he fired on officers in St. Paul.
An unidentified woman with the suspect also was shot and wounded by police in the culmination of an intense eight-hour search.
The drama began when officer Scott Thomas Patrick, 47, a father of two from Mendota Heights, was shot to death about 12:20 p.m. on Dodd Road near Smith Avenue S. in West St. Paul. Patrick, who was alone in his squad car, was making “a routine traffic stop” when he was killed, West St. Paul police Lt. Brian Sturgeon said.
Sturgeon said it was not known if there was a struggle before the officer was shot.
An intensive search immediately began for Brian G. Fitch Sr., whose green Pontiac Grand Am was seen speeding away from the fallen officer.
As the manhunt grew, there were periods of confusion about whether Fitch had been found.
Early on, police surrounded a house on Pond Circle W. in Mendota Heights. Sturgeon would say only that it was one of many houses “affiliated” with the investigation. Later, a house at S. Robert and E. Morton streets on St. Paul’s West Side also was the focus of police activity.
In the afternoon, police began chasing a green car, drawing extensive coverage from television station helicopters. That chase ended in Woodbury, where the driver was pulled from the car. But authorities later said that incident had no connection to the officer’s shooting.
As dusk fell, police got a tip that Fitch was in a house in the 30 block of E. Sycamore Street in St. Paul’s North End.
As officers approached the house in an unmarked car, one saw Fitch driving down the street, according to St. Paul police spokesman Sgt. Paul Paulos.
Fitch recognized the car as a police vehicle and tried to evade it, doing a U-turn in a parking lot. Officers then pulled in front of his vehicle.
As an officer got out of the driver’s side of the police car, Fitch started firing. Officers on the passenger side of the police car returned fire, striking Fitch several times, Paulos said.
The woman who was shot and wounded was with Fitch in the car. Both were taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul. Police said that Fitch’s condition was uncertain late Wednesday, but that the female was expected to survive. Her identity and relationship to Fitch were not released.
Patrick was the most senior member of the Mendota Heights force. He’d worked for the city since 1995, mostly as a patrol officer on the day shift.
He is survived by a wife and two teenage daughters. Mendota Heights Police Chief Mike Aschenbrener said his family has requested privacy.
Patrick “was a family man,” Aschenbrener said at a news conference Wednesday. “He absolutely adored his children. He cared deeply for the city of Mendota Heights. It’s going to be a very tough time for the Mendota Heights Police Department.”
Flags at Mendota Heights City Hall were lowered to half-staff to honor Patrick, and his fellow officers wore black bands across their badges.
Mendota Heights Mayor Sandra Krebsbach said the city “offers our deepest condolences to the family of Scott Patrick [and] ... to the Mendota Heights Police Department. Scott Patrick was a dedicated officer. Please keep [his] family in your prayers.”
Gov. Mark Dayton said he was “appalled by the tragic killing,” extending his condolences to Patrick’s family, friends and colleagues.
Late Wednesday, hundreds of people gathered for a candlelight vigil near the spot where Patrick was shot.
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.
Cold Spring officer Tom Decker, killed Nov. 29, 2012, was the last Minnesota police officer shot and killed while on duty.
Before that, Lake City officer Shawn Schneider died after being shot in the head during a domestic call in December 2011.
Fitch, who lives in the South St. Paul/West St. Paul area, has a lengthy criminal history, according to state and local records.
Jail records show he was twice jailed in Hennepin County, once for felony theft in December 2009 and once in 1995 on a warrant issued by a judge.
In Ramsey County, he has been jailed for nonpayment of child support in 2006, theft in June 2005, prescription fraud in May 2005, a felony drug offense in January 2003, felony assault in February 2000, and, in May 1999, assault, terroristic threats and possession of a firearm.
He has convictions for burglary in August 2013, terroristic threats and false imprisonment in August 2012 and possession of marijuana in May 2012. He has served time in the state prison at St. Cloud.
Records show he has also been to court several times for failing to pay or provide child support to several different women.
‘I feel horrible’
Kimberly Alley, who lives in the area where Patrick was shot, happened to be driving by just after it happened. As she pulled up to the intersection of Dodd and Smith, a woman on the side of the road told her, “A cop has been shot!”
The officer, who had been shot in the back of the head, lay in a pool of blood, Alley said. A woman in scrubs knelt alongside him, delivering CPR.
Alley, a hospital radiology technician, checked for a pulse. There was none, she said.
“A police officer came, and he was trying to rouse him,” she said. “But he wasn’t coming to.”
A passerby got on the phone with emergency dispatchers, describing the shooter and the car he’d fled in.
Moments later, dozens of police officers arrived. “They kept coming and coming,” Alley said. And then the paramedics came and “I tried to get out of everyone’s way.”
“I’m in shock,” she said. “I feel horrible for [the officer’s] family.”
Nearby, Mike Youness was in his living room when he heard three loud shots. “I knew they were gunshots,” he said. “I’m a target shooter and hunter, so I knew immediately.”
Out on the street, he saw Patrick’s Mendota Heights police squad car, its lights flashing. “I wasn’t sure what was lying there when I got to the road,” he said. Then he saw the black police uniform.
“The whole thing is just terrible,” Youness said. “I never even heard a car door slam before it all happened. …
“The squad door was open, and the officer’s gun never left the holster.”
Staff writers Mary Lynn Smith, Jim Walsh, Paul Walsh, Kevin Duchschere and Erin Adler contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org 952-746-3284 email@example.com 651-925-5032 firstname.lastname@example.org 651-925-5033