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.
“This is why officers are so cautious when they approach a vehicle, even on a so-called routine stop,” Bellows said.
Fitch fled the scene in a Pontiac Grand Am as passersby ran to Patrick’s aid, using the officer’s portable radio to sound the alarm, “officer down,” the charges said.
Officers traced the Grand Am to a Mendota Heights address, where a woman said she had recently sold the car to Fitch. She told police that he had been living at her home and left Wednesday at 11 a.m. Police eventually found the Grand Am covered with a tarp in the yard of a home on S. Robert Street in St. Paul.
Officers spoke with a man and woman at that residence who told them that Fitch arrived there shortly after 12:20 p.m. Fitch asked the man to hide his Grand Am in the garage and tried to buy the woman’s SUV, a blue Hyundai Veracruz, the charges said.
“Defendant stated that he needed another vehicle because he did not want to be recognized in the Grand Am,” the complaint said.
The woman refused to sell her SUV, but agreed to lend it to Fitch, the charges said.
Later that evening, two informants told police that Fitch was in St. Paul’s North End, near Rice and Sycamore streets. Responding officers spotted Fitch. A brief chase ensued before the SUV was stopped. According to the complaint, that’s when Fitch fired a handgun at police, who returned fire.
Charges filed in Ramsey County gave this account of that standoff: Officers were tipped that Fitch was at a house on Sycamore Street. When they arrived, they saw the SUV parked at the home. Fitch fled in the SUV.
Police pursued Fitch to a parking lot about a block away. Fitch sped and swerved in the lot, stopping in the corner near a building. That’s when he fired at officers, charges said.
“[Fitch] made no signs of wanting to give up or surrender,” the charges said. “He was ducking down and coming up repeatedly while he was firing.”
Court documents show that before the gunfire, a man jumped out of the SUV’s front passenger seat and ran with his hands in the air. Officers fired at Fitch and stopped when they realized that a woman, Kelly Lee Hardy, was in the SUV. Hardy suffered gunshot wounds to her left elbow and left leg.
“She fell out of the vehicle,” the Ramsey County charges said. “She told officers that [Fitch] would not voluntarily exit the vehicle.”
Police used an armored Bearcat vehicle for protection as they arrested Fitch.
A 9mm Smith and Wesson was found on the floor of the SUV. It had been reported stolen from Eden Prairie. Authorities later sent the gun to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for testing to determine whether it was used to kill Patrick.
In an interview with police, Fitch’s male passenger said that Fitch and Hardy arrived at the Sycamore Street home about 5 to 6 p.m. The man said Fitch took a gun out of a bag and placed it in his waistband.
Fitch told the man that if anyone asked about his whereabouts, he should say that Fitch had gone to Canada. Fitch threatened to kill the man if he didn’t follow those directions, the complaint said.
The man told police that Fitch pulled the handgun out of his waistband and placed it on his lap when he saw a black police car pull up behind the SUV. The man said that he jumped out of the car when Fitch turned into the parking lot and raised the gun in his right hand, the complaint said.
Patrick, 47, started working for the city of Mendota Heights in 1995. He is the first officer from the city to be killed in the line of duty.
Staff writers Nicole Norfleet, Pat Doyle, David Chanen, James Walsh and Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.