Minutes before he was ambushed by a gunman primed to kill, Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick stopped on his lunch break to visit his teenage daughter and her boyfriend.
He drove off that day never to return, his daughter said in court Wednesday, but not before he called her “sweetie” and said he would see her later.
“I’m still waiting,” said daughter Erin Patrick, 18, as about 150 people, many in police uniform, looked on in the standing-room-only Hastings courtroom.
She read her neatly handwritten memory into the court record after the sentencing Wednesday of Brian Fitch Sr., the 40-year-old meth dealer and father of four convicted of shooting Patrick during a traffic stop in West St. Paul July 30.
Fitch, who had a lengthy criminal record, told a friend the night before that he would shoot a police officer if pulled over.
His hands bound and wearing a gray sweatshirt, Fitch proclaimed his innocence before Dakota County District Judge Karen Asphaug. She then sent him to prison for life without parole, a sentence mandated by his first-degree murder conviction.
Fitch “should not see the light of day again,” prosecutor Phillip Prokopowicz told the court before the sentencing.
Fitch was given another 54 years for shooting at three St. Paul police officers during his capture. He also was given a 71-month sentence to be served concurrently with the life sentence for illegal possession of a gun.
The sentencing came two days after Fitch was convicted by a Stearns County jury on nine counts related to Patrick’s death.
Patrick served on the Mendota Heights force for 19 years and was its first officer killed in the line of duty. Some 5,000 people attended his funeral, including 4,000 members of law enforcement from around the state and region.
“I could never really express exactly what was taken from us after Scott’s death,” said his wife, Michelle, in a statement she read to the court Wednesday. The courtroom filled with the sound of crying as she spoke. She said Patrick, her high school sweetheart, would live on in her and her daughters, Amy, 14, and Erin.
She held up a bag of cards and letters sent to the family in the days after his death. One came from the mother of an autistic boy that Patrick helped; another from a woman who found the courage to leave an abusive relationship because of Patrick’s help.
“He has changed more lives than we will ever know about,” she said.
Erin listed the things she’ll no longer get to do with her dad: eat their traditional Saturday morning breakfasts, celebrate Father’s Day, share in the joy of her graduation or see him fulfill his promise to someday help her design her own house.
She’ll have to walk the aisle alone on her wedding day, she said. “I will never hear what witty but proud speech he would have said.”
Amy said people tell her she looks like her dad, and she considers herself the “girly looking version” of him.
“He won’t see me graduate or dance with me at my wedding,” she said. “My dad can’t try to embarrass me anymore, and I miss that. I truly miss that.”
Fitch, in a rambling, off-the-cuff speech before sentencing, said he wasn’t at the crime scene and that “this whole case is trumped up beyond imagination.”
He criticized the work of Judge Mary Theisen, who presided over his trial but was ill Wednesday and did not attend his sentencing. She “went against every procedure that I can think of,” he said.
Saying he is a Christian who will go to heaven, Fitch said he feels sorry for the Patrick family, “but I have a family, too.”
His mother, Alice Fitch, sat near the back of the courtroom, often sobbing.
She said afterward that Fitch has four sons. “I tried to teach my kids right,” she said. “They went to church, they were all baptized, [taught them] right from wrong, but when they get older, they get out on their own. You just don’t have control of them no more. As a mother, it’s horrible.”
Speaking to the media after the hearing, Patrick’s half-brother Mike Brue, said, “There are no routine traffic stops,” alluding to the final moments of Patrick’s life.
He thanked the police officers across the state for their work on his brother’s murder case, saying thank you as well to the support staffs behind the scenes.
He also thanked Fitch’s attorneys for providing a vigorous defense, saying the judicial system demands it.
“We think it was a fair trial,” he said.
Asphaug read a statement from the absent Judge Theisen, who was ill, in which she said officer Patrick’s life, not his death, should be his legacy.