Mendota Heights Police Officer Scott Patrick was at his happiest patrolling in his cruiser along Dodd Road, his widow says. But dread emerged whenever he entered the police department building.
Months before he was killed in the line of duty last year, shot while conducting a traffic stop, Patrick filed a whistleblower suit against the city and its police chief alleging retaliation for reporting two officers he thought stole a picnic bench.
Michelle Patrick will now take her husband’s place in that lawsuit, which is scheduled for trial days before the anniversary of his death. Dakota County District Judge Martha Simonett granted Michelle Patrick’s motion to substitute for her husband in a July 27 jury trial.
“We lost Scott even before he was actually killed,” Michelle Patrick said Thursday, describing the way her husband often brought his displeasure with the department home at night.
Scott Patrick’s original complaint, filed in February 2014 in Dakota County District Court, accused Mendota Heights Police Chief Michael Aschenbrener of retaliating against him for reporting a theft by two other officers in 2008. Patrick also alleged that the department failed to provide adequate written notice regarding the nature of an internal affairs investigation before a 2012 disciplinary hearing.
Aschenbrener and the city oppose Michelle Patrick’s involvement, arguing that Patrick’s employment-related claims “do not survive his death” because he did not sustain damages such as wage loss before his July 30 death.
They point out that an arbitrator reduced a May 2012 suspension to a written warning. Patrick also received a one-day suspension in July 2014, but after he was shot to death during a routine traffic stop on July 30,
City Administrator Justin Miller decided to include that day as part of a full paycheck issued on August 1.
Brian Fitch, Sr., was convicted of Patrick’s death in February and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Michelle Patrick is seeking $75,000 each for a violation of the Minnesota Peace Officer Discipline Procedures Act and unlawful retaliation under the state whistleblower act because her husband potentially incurred medical expenses for emotional distress.
Mendota Heights City Attorney Jana O’Leary Sullivan, who is representing Aschenbrener, said Thursday that the city maintains the lawsuit’s claims have no merit. “The city and Chief Aschenbrener did not retaliate against officer Patrick,” Sullivan said.
According to the lawsuit, when Patrick learned in 2011 that Aschenbrener still hadn’t addressed the 2008 theft allegation, Patrick assembled a police union meeting to discuss the matter.
In January 2012, Patrick filed a complaint to the city administrator and state board of police officer stan dards and training to raise “a pattern of questionable ethics and criminal violations” by Aschenbrener and one of the patrol officers involved in the picnic table theft.
Patrick believed this led to what he considered an unfair one-day suspension he received in connection with an arrest he made in an unrelated incident on January 23, 2012.
Lee Flandrich, a former Mendota Heights officer who worked with Patrick for 10 years, said he left the department after experiencing “almost identical” incidents.
Often, Flandrich said, a complaint filed by him resulted in an internal affairs investigation. “I don’t know how many cars I drove by that I would have normally stopped during my shift but didn’t dare do anything,” Flandrich said.
Michelle Patrick said she wasn’t aware how deep her husband’s frustrations went until she reviewed his paperwork after his death.
Now, she said, she’s pursuing the suit more to expose departmental practices than to collect monetary damages. She recalled her husband once asserting that Aschenbrener told him he could make an example of any officer that confronted him.
“I’d really like to see him try to make an example of me,” Michelle Patrick said. “I have nothing to lose and I have to do this for Scott.”