Brian Fitch Sr. sentenced in murder of Mendota Heights officer Scott Patrick


Since Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick was killed near the intersection of Dodd Road and Smith Avenue in West St. Paul July 30, a memorial of flowers, signs and candles has been maintained near where he was fatally shot. A recent addition — a sign marking Patrick's birthday Jan. 26 — is pictured somewhat covered in snow Feb. 4.

Scott Patrick

Brian Fitch Sr.

Fitch gets life in prison without chance for release

A week after Scott Patrick would have turned 48, the man accused of fatally shooting the Mendota Heights police officer just over six months ago has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.

On Feb. 2, a Stearns County jury found Brian George Fitch Sr., 40, guilty of first-degree murder for shooting and killing Patrick July 30 during a traffic stop in West St. Paul, and three counts of attempted murder for shooting at three St. Paul officers several hours later during his arrest in a neighborhood north of the state Capitol. 

He was also convicted of illegal possession of a firearm and intentional discharge of a firearm.

Fitch was sentenced Feb. 4 to life in prison without parole, mandated by the conviction, and another 54 years for the shootout. He'll serve about six years for illegal possession of a firearm. He is being held at the Oak Park Heights prison in Stillwater.

"We are pleased to have brought Brian Fitch to justice for this senseless and violent crime that took the life of officer Scott Patrick and endangering the lives of other officers," Dakota County attorney James Backstrom said in a statement.

Killed during traffic stop

After Patrick pulled over Fitch July 30 on Dodd Road, the drug dealer shot Patrick in the head, leg and abdomen, and then fled. 

Though Fitch had warrants out for his arrest and a history of violence, and drug-related convictions, Patrick wouldn't have known that. Fitch was driving a car that wasn't registered to him.

No other officers were injured while tracking down and arresting Fitch, even during a shootout that left Fitch with several gunshot wounds.

As the frightened and grieving community rejoiced at Fitch's capture, hundreds of people gathered for a spontaneous vigil, surrounding a growing pile of flowers, candles and balloons near the corner of Dodd Road and Smith Avenue, where Patrick was gunned down. Porch lights throughout West St. Paul and Mendota Heights were left on in Patrick's honor that night. 

Fitch was initially charged in two counties, Dakota and Ramsey, but soon a multi-county grand jury combined the charges against him. Saying Fitch wouldn't have a fair trial in Dakota County, a judge granted the defense attorneys' request to have the trial moved to Stearns County. 

"Officer Patrick's death has impacted countless people in the Dakota County community from which a Dakota County jury would be summoned, and the wound is still fresh," stated the order changing the venue for the trial.

Dakota County Attorney's Office chief deputy Phil Prokopwicz and Ramsey County Attorney's Office Criminal Division director Richard Dusterhoft prosecuted the case. 

The West St. Paul and St. Paul police departments jointly investigated the murder and subsequent shootout, and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension assisted with forensic evidence. 

"We are grateful for the jury's guilty verdict, but, unfortunately for us all, this does not bring back a dedicated peace officer, a father, a husband and someone who meant so many other things to our entire community," Ramsey County attorney John Choi said in a statement after the sentencing. "That fact is what is so sad and tragic about this case."

Mourning a loss

Patrick, the city's longest-tenured officer and first to be killed in the line of duty, died at 47. He grew up on St. Paul's West Side, graduated from Humboldt High School and got his start in law enforcement in Shakopee. He was hired by the Mendota Heights Police Department in 1995. 

Mourning along with Patrick's wife Michelle, and daughters, Erin and Amy, members of the community have continually found ways to honor the slain officer.

Since Patrick's death, a man dutifully kept the candles lighted at the memorial on Dodd Road, a child raised thousands of dollars for the family through a lemonade stand, and strangers donated tens of thousands more to help support his family. 

Over the holidays, residents throughout the region illuminated their own memorials to Patrick, and a Christmas tree was placed at the memorial site. 

On Patrick's birthday Jan. 26, in the midst of the trial, the memorial at Dodd and Smith was refreshed with a "Happy Birthday Scott" sign, and many more online memorials spread on social media. 

On Facebook, many have changed their profile pictures to a photo of Patrick — some at the urging of the "Remembering Mendota Heights Officer Scott Patrick" page — in a show of support for the family and the Mendota Heights Police Department as they attended the tense court proceedings leading up to the verdict. 

The loss shook the community. And while the many efforts to try to mend what can be mended have helped, former West St. Paul Mayor John Zanmiller said there is still a "hole in our hearts" — a scar left on the affected communities.

"But the residents fought on, refusing to be enslaved by grief and by having trust in the judicial system to provide a fair trial and sentence," Zanmiller said in a letter to the sentencing judge.

Zanmiller said Michelle Patrick's statement after the jury's decision struck him.

"Michelle asked God to bless Brian Fitch," Zanmiller wrote. "Her statements, her poise, and her life from here on out will be an inspiration for all who were exposed to this wicked crime.

"Our residents have learned from her example; we will move on. But we will live with the reminder of his acts in the dark spaces of our memory forever."

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.

 
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