3 Mendota Heights officers testify about fierce gunfight with man accused of killing fellow policeman
ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- On what would have been Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick's 48th birthday, the two bullets that killed him were introduced in his murder trial.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. - On what would have been Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick’s 48th birthday, the two bullets that killed him were introduced in his murder trial.
Monday also saw testimony from the three police officers whom Patrick’s accused killer, Brian Fitch Sr., is charged with firing on during his arrest. A handful of people who were with Fitch that day - including two who were in the car when police caught up with him and unleashed a torrent of gunfire - also took the witness stand.
Fitch, 40, is charged with first-degree murder in Patrick’s death and three counts of attempted murder and a firearms felony for allegedly shooting at the other officers. He has pleaded not guilty.
The trial, which concluded its third day of testimony Monday, is being held in St. Cloud over concerns Fitch could not get a fair jury in Dakota County.
Patrick was shot dead during a traffic stop in West St. Paul around 12:20 p.m. Police officers on the stand described a sprawling manhunt for Fitch in the hours that followed, in which officers were dispatched to investigate numerous residences and leads in Dakota and Ramsey counties.
Two informants tipped them off that Fitch was at a home on Sycamore Street in St. Paul near Oakland Cemetery. Officers converged on the location, mostly in unmarked cars. They were drawing up a plan to secure it when they saw two vehicles pull out.
One was a Jeep carrying two of Fitch’s associates. It stopped when they pulled it over. The other was a Hyundai Veracruz with Fitch behind the wheel. It kept going.
A frenzied chase through side streets ensued, ending when Fitch pulled into a parking lot just up the street from where he’d started. Timothy Bohn, a St. Paul police officer, approached the vehicle on foot.
A man - later identified as Jacob Hayes, who also testified Monday - bolted from the passenger door.
Bohn testified that he saw Fitch raise something in his right hand, followed by a muzzle flash from a gun and the sound of at least two shots. Bohn shot back before taking cover.
Meanwhile, Fitch was trying to back up and turn around. The driver’s window came square with the car in which St. Paul police Sgt. Don Benner and Cmdr. Karsten “Jeff” Winger had pursued Fitch.
They both testified they saw Fitch shooting at them two or three times. Benner fired back four times. The first two were aimed at the silhouette of Fitch’s head and missed. The next two were aimed for the driver’s side door.
“At that point,” Benner said, “he stopped moving.”
Other officers on the scene were opening fire on the vehicle with their service pistols and rifles. With Bohn in the line of fire, Fitch incapacitated and a woman in the back seat of the SUV and apparently injured, Winger ordered a cease-fire.
The shootout “seemed like a long time at the time,” Bohn said, but probably took no more than 10 to 15 seconds. Winger estimated it took “five, six, seven seconds, maybe” from start to finish.
Police told the woman, Kelly Hardy, to leave the vehicle. She struggled to get her seat belt off but eventually was able to roll out. They told Fitch to toss away the gun, put his hands up and get out; he said he couldn’t.
The officers pulled back and waited for the SWAT team to arrive. Protected by an armored vehicle, the unit rammed the driver’s door to keep it from opening.
St. Paul police officer Adam Bailey, a SWAT member, then opened the passenger-side door and ordered Fitch: “Show me your hands.”
Fitch replied: “I have a gun, but it’s on the floor,” Bailey testified Monday.
Bailey pulled him out, cuffed him on the ground and handed him over to medics. Photos of the bloody clothing they cut off Fitch were shown to the jury.
Fitch was shot eight times. He needed surgery and appeared in court in a wheelchair for months.
Hayes, the man who fled from Fitch’s vehicle, testified Monday that Fitch had come to the Sycamore residence that afternoon. He described him as cool and collected - in fact, “I’d never seen him that calm,” Hayes said.
He said he left with Fitch because he was supposed to drop him off at another car and return the Veracruz to a woman from whom Fitch had borrowed it.
When the police chase broke out, Hayes asked if he could get out.
Fitch “told me to shut the f--- up,” Hayes said.
He also said Fitch instructed him and others to say he had gone to Canada, if asked, and threatened to kill Hayes’ family if he said where Fitch was.
Defense attorney Lauri Traub said Hayes hadn’t reported that threat in his statement to police. Hayes replied: “I never thought it was a big deal.”
Hayes admitted he was high the day of the shooting, but insisted he remembered it “like the back of my hand.”
Jeffrey Klink, who lived at the Sycamore residence, testified that Fitch and another man had discussed going to a cabin in Wisconsin. He said he felt as if Fitch were involved in Patrick’s killing, but that Fitch denied it.
Klink, too, was high at the time. After his testimony, Traub said for the record that she thought he was high in court as well, based on his demeanor.
Hardy, a friend of Fitch’s who was in the back of the Veracruz, said she spent the afternoon with Fitch running errands. They stopped at Dairy Queen, got a new tire for the vehicle, went to Walgreens for a new cellphone - not unusual for Fitch, she said - and went to Jimmy John’s.
She said there was no talk of Fitch leaving town, and that any reference to hiding out in Canada was a joke.
Hardy was shot seven times.
Earlier in the day, prosecutors introduced two bullets that were recovered from Patrick’s body - one from a wound to the abdomen, the other from a shot to the head. The medical examiner who performed his autopsy said either would have been fatal.
The bullets won’t be entered into evidence until the prosecution establishes their chain of custody.
Mike Brue, Patrick’s half brother, said the officer’s birthday was made somber by the trial, but that the family would still celebrate his life.
“There’s no way you can take away the life that he lived in those 47 years, and we’re very grateful for those years,” Brue said.
He said someone would likely raise a glass of one of Patrick’s favorites: half-priced Monday margaritas.
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