Cop-killing suspect has long, violent criminal history
ST. PAUL – Facing prison time last year for assaulting a man and threatening his life, Brian Fitch Sr. assured a Dakota County judge that he was ready to turn around his troubled life.
“I know I will be one of the small percentage of people who actually make the changes needed to get back to becoming a great father,” Fitch wrote in a letter to the court in May 2013, “and a productive part of society.”
Fourteen months later, Fitch is suspected of shooting a Mendota Heights police officer to death.
The letter, along with a trove of other court documents over the years, offered a window on a man whose long and violent criminal history culminated in accusations of homicide this week.
Fitch, 39, allegedly shot and killed veteran Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick during a traffic stop Wednesday in West St. Paul. Several hours later, he was wounded during his arrest in St. Paul. He was listed in serious condition Thursday.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi planned to announce charges against Fitch Friday afternoon.
Fitch has a long history of run-ins with the law.
As a juvenile, he was charged with shooting a man outside a home in West St. Paul, according to a family member of the victim from that case. Court records show Fitch was convicted of second-degree assault in 1992.
His adult felony history began in 1999 with more assault charges and an accusation of carrying a gun illegally. Fitch and three companions were accused of storming the home of a man with whom they’d had a dispute, holding a gun to the mother of the man’s child and threatening her life. Fitch pleaded guilty to the assault charges and struck a plea deal for three years in prison, at least two of them served.
At sentencing, he asked for leniency, saying he had to care for his pregnant girlfriend and that he had shouldered a disproportionate amount of the blame.
“I just feel like I got the bad end of the stick,” he said.
The judge stuck with the three-year term. His attorney called the sentence “unfortunate.” He said Fitch had made good progress since he was a juvenile and hoped the prison time didn’t lead to further problems with the law.
But six months into his sentence, Fitch tried to escape from custody in Anoka County, court records show. He was convicted of a felony in that case, too, and sentenced to probation.
In 2003, he was accused of breaking into a home in Washington County with two other people. Fitch reportedly was armed with a knife and threatened a man in the home. When it turned out the man’s safe was empty, Fitch assaulted him and stole valuables.
He was identified by his own sister, who was among the people in the home. Another woman and three children were also home.
Fitch pleaded guilty to felony burglary and was sentenced to 180 days in jail, plus 20 years’ probation.
‘Worst decision of my life’
In the years that followed, Fitch accumulated about a dozen lesser offenses – petty theft, driving after revocation, resisting an officer. But in July 2012, he was accused in Dakota County of terroristic threats, assault and false imprisonment.
According to those criminal charges, Fitch and two companions kidnapped a man in West St. Paul at knifepoint, and then beat and robbed him. They then threatened to kill the man and forced him to walk down the street naked. Fitch accused the man of having a relationship with his girlfriend, the charges said.
Fitch eventually pleaded guilty to the terroristic threats charge and misdemeanor assault.
Before sentencing, he wrote his letter in which he professed to be poised for reform.
He said his problems stemmed from an addiction to painkillers that spiraled into a methamphetamine habit. The drugs were “the worst decision of my life,” he wrote, and accounted for all of his behavior.
He spoke of completing treatment, parenting classes, anger management and college prep courses. He said his four sons needed him. He asked for the “the one chance I’ve needed” to get well, rather than prison.
“I know I can and will be able to help myself and others along the way,” he said in the letter.
His request for mercy was at once successful and futile: The judge issued a lighter sentence than guidelines called for, saying Fitch was amenable to treatment and showed remorse. In spite of the prosecutor’s objections, Fitch got five years’ probation, a stayed three-year sentence and credit for jail time served.
But soon after, he was sent to prison for breaking the terms of his probation for the 2003 burglary. Fitch spent the next eight months behind bars.
In February 2014, he was released to Dakota County authorities for a pending first-degree drug charge there for possession of 47 grams of meth. He was transferred to a residential treatment program later that month.
In March, he was given notice of a probation violation hearing, with a follow-up scheduled for June 6. Corrections officials said in court filings he wasn’t completing his treatment and had slipped away from supervision.
When Fitch didn’t show up for the June hearing, a warrant was issued for his arrest. When Officer Patrick stopped him Wednesday, Fitch faced the prospect of more years in prison.
No other suspects
At a news conference Thursday, West St. Paul police Lt. Brian Sturgeon said Fitch was the only suspect in Patrick’s death. The 47-year-old officer was shot at Dodd Road and Smith Avenue in West St. Paul.
After he allegedly shot Patrick around 12:20 p.m., Fitch fled the scene. But eight hours later, he was spotted driving an SUV on St. Paul’s north end.
Police followed him into a parking lot and as St. Paul police Cmdr. Jeff Winger emerged from his unmarked car, Fitch reportedly opened fire. A second officer returned fire, wounding Fitch.
Kelly Lee Hardy, 36, of Maplewood, who was a passenger in Fitch’s SUV, suffered non-life-threatening gunshot wounds. She was not arrested.
Police did not say what her relationship with Fitch was or how she might be connected to the case.
Investigators were testing a weapon found in the SUV to determine if it was the one used to kill Patrick.
Six officers, including three working undercover, were involved in the shootout with Fitch and were placed on administrative leave, as is standard after shootings.
Tad Vezner also contributed to this report.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.