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Mendota Heights officer slain during traffic stop; police hunt for suspect

An officer blocks off the entrance to Pond Circle West in Mendota Heights as officers apparently search for a suspect Wednesday.

ST. PAUL -- Mendota Heights’ most veteran police officer was shot and killed during a traffic stop Wednesday afternoon in neighboring West St. Paul.

A manhunt was on for the suspect, who already was a wanted fugitive — he got out of prison in February and had a Minnesota Department of Corrections warrant for his arrest.

Early Wednesday evening, police in SWAT gear were on St. Paul’s West Side and had several blocks cordoned off near South Robert and State streets. Police said they have found the suspect’s car.

Police told a woman that the suspect might be in a downstairs unit of a duplex in the 600 block of South Robert. The car was found in the duplex’s driveway, the woman said.

Officer Scott Patrick, a 47-year-old who was married and had two teenage children, died at Regions Hospital, said Mendota Heights Police Chief Mike Aschenbrener.

“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.”

Patrick, a Mendota Heights officer since 1995, was about two blocks into West St. Paul and conducting a routine traffic stop when he was shot about 12:20 p.m. at Dodd Road and Smith Avenue, Aschenbrener said.

Police were looking for Brian Fitch Sr., 39, who lives in the South St. Paul/West St. Paul area, Aschenbrener said. The suspect car was a green Pontiac Grand Am. Rewards were being offered in the case and anyone with information was asked to call 800-222-TIPS.

Television helicopter news reports after 3 p.m. showed a car surrounded by officers along Interstate 494 and Lake Road in Woodbury. But the individual turned out not to be the suspect police were pursuing.

Fitch has a lengthy criminal history, including convictions for first-degree burglary, 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.

Mike Youness was sitting in his living room along Ottawa Avenue with his wife when he heard three gunshots early Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m a hunter,” Youness said. “I recognized them as gunshots immediately.”

He went outside and 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 injuiry, Youness said. A woman who Youness believes was a nurse attempted to revive the officer.

“She said it was futile,” Youness said. “He was already gone.”

Doug Nelson was sitting on his deck about a block away when he said he heard two to three loud pops.

Nelson then heard a car traveling fast along Dodd Road and a honking horn.

Mike Lowe was walking his dog when he heard three gunshots, looked over and saw the officer “crumple to the ground.”

Patrick, a 19-year veteran, was the first Mendota Heights police officer killed in the line of duty. The department has an authorized strength of 17 officers.

Patrick was “a family man who absolutely adored his children,” Aschenbrener said. “It’s going to be a very tough time for the Mendota Heights Police Department.”

Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell, who lives in Mendota Heights, recalled meeting Patrick at a school function years ago.

The two went on to see each other at various community events and professional gatherings over the years.

Schnell called his passing a “horrible loss.”

“I think that this is something every (peace officer) dreads,” he said. “I just feel so sad for his family and for the department and for Mendota Heights. … As a resident, he is one of my police.”

The tragedy serves as a reminder of the risks officers face, Schnell said, even while working in what he described as “exceedingly safe communities.”

“He was an officer just trying to do a job and he ends up being shot … it’s just immensely difficult when these things happen,” Schnell said.

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.

Mara H. Gottfried and Tad Vezner contributed to this report.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.