The fate of nearly $3,000 seized from Brian Fitch during his arrest last year for the murder of Mendota Heights Officer Scott Patrick is still uncertain as Fitch’s case moves on to the appellate process.
On Thursday, Dakota County District Judge Karen Asphaug asked prosectors and Fitch’s attorney, Lauri Traub, to provide a written answer as to whether state law grants the court authority to require restitution payments be made using seized property. She gave the state until May 14 to file an answer and Traub until May 26 to respond, after which Asphaug will issue a written decision.
Traub filed a motion in March asking for the return of the cash, citing the St. Paul Police Department’s failure to file a forfeiture notice after Fitch’s arrest. Prosecutors have maintained that the cash is considered evidence in the murder case. Fitch was convicted and sentenced to life without parole in February, but the state argued it should retain all evidence until Fitch has exhausted his appeals.
Confusion marked the beginning of the hearing when no one knew whether an appeal had been filed before the Tuesday filing deadline. After a short recess, Traub confirmed that an appeal had been filed by mail on Tuesday.
Traub’s attention then turned to the lack of a forfeiture notice in Fitch’s case.
“He’s not a popular person. We all know that. But the law applies to everyone,” Traub said.
Sgt. Jake Peterson, who led the St. Paul Police Department’s involvement in the search for Fitch, said a notice wasn’t filed because it was unclear at the time whether the cash belonged to Fitch. There were two other people in the car when Fitch was arrested July 30 following a shootout with officers. Peterson said all three people were known to be connected with drug activity and that methamphetamine was also found in the car.
Special Assistant Dakota County Attorney Richard Dusterhoft argued that the funds seized from Fitch could be used to pay down “significant debts” that may include $70,000 in restitution and up to $18,000 in unpaid child support.
“We’re not going to give the money to the St. Paul Police Department to buy AR-15s,” Dusterhoft said.
Fitch appeared Thursday wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, his head clean-shaven and sporting a goatee. He smiled and greeted Traub when he entered the courtroom. Also Thursday, Asphaug dismissed a 2013 drug case against Fitch.