After Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick was gunned down during a routine traffic stop on July 30, thousands attended his funeral to pay their respects. People lined the streets with flags and handmade signs as the funeral procession went by. Since then, people have been reaching out in countless ways.
“The outpouring of support not only in Mendota Heights but across the state and nation has been overwhelming,” said Mendota Heights Police Sgt. Eric Petersen.
People dropped off pies, muffins and cakes. A woman from out of state sent all of the officers handmade black stocking caps with a thin blue line, a symbol that represents a fallen officer.
Michael Bellotti, a onetime Dakota County resident who now lives in Bloomington, had seen the police cars surrounding the area around the intersection of Dodd Boulevard and Smith Avenue on the day of the shooting, when he was driving to his St. Paul studio.
“It happened up the road,” he said. “Literally, up the road.”
His response to the tragedy?
“I paint people,” he said, “That’s what I do.”
Bellotti, 36, convicted at age 24 of a nonviolent drug offense, did a decade of prison time. While there, he taught himself to paint. Now the artist has presented Mendota Heights police with an oil portrait of Officer Patrick.
When Sgt. Petersen first saw the painting, “it was a breathtaking moment,” he said.
Petersen called it “a very good representation of Scott” and of his uniform — “the detail in the patch and the badge.”
Mayor Sandra Krebsbach appreciates how Bellotti captured the likeness and “engaging smile.”
“People really identify with him,” she said of Patrick, a 19-year veteran. “He was front line, a great community police officer. I think that Patrick touched him [Bellotti] as well. I think that speaks to who he was.”
Bellotti said he worked on the portrait as an effort to give back.
“Since I’ve been out of prison,” he said, “the community has helped me to realize my second chances. I felt like giving back to my community that’s kind of helped me, embraced me.”
While in prison, Bellotti taught himself to paint using Bob Ross books, doing studies of master artists like Pino Daeni and then painting from photos in magazines. He painted for 10 to 11 hours a day, often breaking only for meals.
“Once I started to get good at it, it kind of just took me over,” ” he said. “It was my whole life in there.”
He likened prison to “a revolving door.”
“People get out, get in trouble, go back in,” he said. He saw people incarcerated for the third time, and he thought, “That’s not going to be me.”
While Bellotti was in prison, his cousin, Adam Carter, died at age 20 from leukemia. He painted Adam’s portrait, which his mother presented to Adam’s mother, Mary, at Christmas.
“It just meant the world to us,” said Mary Carter, a real estate agent who lives in Elk River. “I had been praying for something to do in honor of Adam. When we received the painting, I thought, ‘This is what we can do.’ ”
Carter wanted others to have the same experience. She found a picture of a young girl with cancer who had recently passed away. Bellotti painted her, and Carter showed up at the family’s house unannounced with the painting.
“Unless you’ve lost a child,” she said, “you just don’t get it.”
Carter and Bellotti’s mother, Diana Williams, started the Adam Carter Foundation. She and Williams have delivered 35 portraits of young loved ones to their grieving families.
“His foundation is a great cause,” said Marilyn Hanson, owner of the Great Frame Up in Burnsville, who donates all the frames for the foundation’s paintings. “He’s particular and puts a lot of thought into them.”
When he thought of painting Officer Patrick, Bellotti ran the idea by some friends who are retired St. Paul police officers and “they thought it was a good idea,” he said.
Though he’s never present when foundation paintings are given to grieving families — he doesn’t want the focus on him — he wanted to present the painting to Patrick’s colleagues.
“Even though I lived on the other side of the law,” said Bellotti, “I did and do appreciate how law enforcement and soldiers risk their lives to protect and serve.”
Carter and Williams accompanied him for the delivery. Williams said the chief talked about Patrick’s smile and said it looked like Patrick was going to play a joke.
“He was speaking as if Officer Patrick was right there,” she said.
“Those officers were hurting still,” said Carter. “You could feel the camaraderie among them, but you could see the hurt still.”
Petersen said all officers now wear pins with a thin blue line, and he admitted that the officers are still struggling, especially when they encounter things that remind them of Patrick.
“We have good days,” he said, “and bad days.”
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance journalist.