Suspect in Mendota Heights cop killing arrested after shootout in St. Paul
ST. PAUL -- A routine traffic stop midday Wednesday ended with gunshots that felled Mendota Heights’ most veteran police officer. Eight hours later, during a massive manhunt for officer Scott Patrick’s killer, police said the suspect opened fire on St. Paul officers, who shot back.
Brian George Fitch Sr. was injured, as was a woman in the car he was driving.
Fitch, 39, was a career criminal and wanted fugitive before the shooting — he got out of prison in February, and a Minnesota Department of Corrections warrant was issued for him in June.
Patrick, 47, was married and had two teenage daughters. He was about two blocks into West St. Paul when he was critically wounded at Dodd Road and Smith Avenue, a busy area where many people heard the shots about 12:20 p.m.
At the nearby Holiday convenience store, a father and son getting gas saw the traffic stop. The officer went to the driver’s side window, and the driver quickly fired three shots and sped away, said the men.
The father and son ran over, as did a nurse who tried to save the officer, said the men, who asked that their names not be published. They saw the officer was shot in the head and his gun was still holstered and buckled.
The witnesses hadn’t seen the driver, but heard his name from police later. They recognized Fitch as having grown up on St. Paul’s West Side. The younger man said he went to Humboldt High School with him.
After the shooting, someone who talked to Fitch told the father and son that he said, “Watch for fireworks. It’s gonna be like the Fourth” of July.
As police in SWAT gear searched on the West Side for Fitch on Wednesday night, they received a tip that he was in the North End. Responding officers saw Fitch driving in the area of Rice and Sycamore streets and he tried to evade them, pulling into a parking lot shortly before 8 p.m., police said.
A police vehicle pulled in front of Fitch, an officer started opening his door and Fitch opened fire, police said. Officers returned fire, striking Fitch and a woman in his car. Both were taken to Regions Hospital. The woman had non-life-threatening injuries and Fitch’s condition wasn’t immediately known.
Police said they weren’t looking for additional suspects.
Patrick joined the Mendota Heights Police Department in 1995. He died at Regions Hospital, said Mendota Heights Police Chief Mike Aschenbrener.
“He was a very dedicated police officer and a family man who absolutely adored his children,” Aschenbrener said. “It’s going to be a very trying time for them. He cared deeply about the city of Mendota Heights, and it’s going to be a very tough time for the Mendota Heights police department.”
Many people reported hearing the shots that felled Patrick.
Mike Youness was in his home, heard the shots and went outside. He walked about 120 yards to where a Mendota Heights police SUV was at the side of the road with its door open. An officer was lying on the ground with a severe head injury, Youness said. A woman who Youness believes was a nurse attempted to revive Patrick.
“She said it was futile,” Youness said. “He was already gone. … This is very sad. A guy leaves for work and then look what happens.”
Mike Lowe was walking his dog when he heard three gunshots, looked over and saw the officer “crumple to the ground.”
Fitch lives in the South St. Paul/West St. Paul area, police said. He was out of prison on supervised release for a burglary conviction from Washington County.
Fitch has a lengthy criminal history, including convictions for theft, escaping custody and fleeing from police officers. His most recent conviction was last spring, when he was sentenced for terroristic threats and fifth-degree assault for an incident dating back to 2012.
Patrick was the first Mendota Heights officer killed in the line of duty. Mendota Heights is a city of 11,000, and the police department’s authorized strength is 17 officers.
“It’s a hard day for all of Mendota Heights,” said Mendota Heights City Council member Ultan Duggan. “You think this will never happen to you and then out of the blue ... boom here is what happens.”
The last law enforcement officer to be slain in the line of duty in Minnesota was Cold Spring police officer Tom Decker, 31, who was shot to death in an ambush on Nov. 29, 2012. The suspect killed himself two months later.
The last law enforcement officer to be slain in the line of duty in the Twin Cities was Maplewood police Sgt. Joseph Bergeron, 49, who was shot to death in an ambush in St. Paul on May 1, 2010. A St. Paul police officer fatally shot the killer during an ensuing manhunt. An accomplice pleaded guilty and remains in prison.
By Mara H. Gottfried, Tad Vezner, Nick Ferraro and Sarah Horner
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.