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Thousands mourn Minn. officer slain during traffic stop

In a sea of blue uniforms and black-clad badges that gave way to an unabating column of squad car lights, thousands of mourners packed a West St. Paul neighborhood church

By Marino Eccher, Sarah Horner and Mara H. Gottfried
Pioneer Press

WEST ST. PAUL, Minn. — In a sea of blue uniforms and black-clad badges that gave way to an unabating column of squad car lights, thousands of mourners packed a West St. Paul neighborhood church and the surrounding streets Wednesday to pay their respects to fallen Mendota Heights Police officer Scott Patrick.

He was a loving father and husband who beamed over his daughters. He was a handyman who cobbled together the family lake house, a good-natured wise-cracker with a big grin. And he was a dedicated public servant who loved his work in the community he called home.

"I will miss my brother," said fellow Mendota Heights officer Robert Lambert in an emotional eulogy. "Scott, I love you. We love you. Rest now. We'll take your watch from here."

Lambert was one of about 5,000 people — 4,000 of them law enforcement officers from every corner of Minnesota and beyond -- who gathered at St. Stephen's Lutheran Church for Patrick's 11 a.m. funeral.

Patrick was shot and killed just after noon July 30 during a routine traffic stop in West St. Paul. The career criminal charged with his murder, Brian Fitch Sr., was arrested that night in St. Paul after a shootout with police. He remains hospitalized with eight gunshot wounds.

Inside the church, Mendota Heights officers joined Patrick's widow Michelle and daughters, 17-year-old Erin and 13-year-old Amy, along with Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and other dignitaries.

The rest of the crowd spilled into overflow tents and beyond. A Department of Public safety spokesman said organizers got phone calls asking for information and directions from law enforcement officers as far away as Canada.

Mendota Heights Police Chief Mike Aschenbrener said Patrick, a 19-year police veteran, chose a path he loved and never strayed from it.

"He was true to himself. He was true to his family. He was true to his profession," Aschenbrener said.

Lambert and John Larrive, two officers whom Aschenbrener said likely spent more time with Patrick than anyone outside his family, both spoke Wednesday.

They described Patrick as an exemplar of community policing — compassionate and deeply committed to making his town a better place.

He wasn't an officer who would write the most tickets or make the most arrests, Larrive said. In fact, "he probably would've done whatever he could to get out of paperwork."

But Patrick listened, he said, and he cared.

Turning his remarks toward the world beyond, Larrive highlighted a few of his friend's more lighthearted habits.

"Lord, if you can hear me, I have something to say," he said. "If you are looking for yellow legal pads, Scott has them all."

He also asked that Patrick be directed to "the best restaurant in heaven with half-priced margaritas on Monday."

Larrive recounted the way Patrick would bid his colleagues farewell for a weekend or vacation. He'd ask them what they had planned and tell them to enjoy the break.

In that spirit, he asked his fallen comrade: "Please police from heaven, and enjoy your days off."

Mike Brue, Patrick's brother, spoke of Patrick's resourceful do-it-yourself streak. He once decided he wanted to turn his detached garage into an attached one, and lured 40 friends and family members over with cold beers to move the structure into place.

Patrick knew the risks of his job and wasn't one to harbor regrets, Brue said — except, perhaps, a lake house improvement project that sprawled out of control. When the dust settled, Patrick finally admitted he might have gone overboard.

He had the conviction to build a life that matched his dreams, Brue said.

"Then, in an instant, he's gone, and we grieve deeply," he said.

Patrick and Michelle were married in the same church 26 years ago. One of the songs from their wedding, Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling In Love," was sung at the funeral.

Officer Lambert choked up as he imagined what Patrick might say at the sight of a bustling hero's funeral in his honor.

"He'd say 'Not bad for a Humboldt grad,' " Lambert said.

After the church service, police vehicles departed in two groups on an eight-mile procession that wound through West St. Paul and Mendota Heights to Acacia Park Cemetery. The cars lined the road as far as the eye could see — lights flashing, sirens silent.

Crowds of onlookers, ranging from babies in strollers to a 92-year-old man pushing a walker, lined the route with homemade signs and American flags.

One sign read: "May God bless our neighbor, our friend, our hero." Others bore Patrick's 2231 badge number with a simple "thanks."

Rose Singer held her small flag high throughout the roughly 40 minutes it took for the parade of peace officers to clear the spot she'd camped out along Butler Avenue and Smith Street. That's just a block south of the scene of Patrick's shooting at Smith and Dodd Road.

"With all they've done for us, I can do at least this," the West St. Paul 72-year-old said.

Singer said her heart filled with gratitude and sadness as she watched the thousands of officers pass by.

"I'm glad to see so many people here today," she said. "I just wish it didn't take a tragedy."

Jason Serbesku, 39, said the throngs of people at the processions brought tears of joy to his eyes.

The West St. Paul man has spent hours at Patrick's memorial over the past several days, cleaning up cigarette butts and re-lighting candles left at the site Patrick was gunned down.

He only met the officer once when Patrick pulled him over for a speeding ticket several months ago. It was enough to make an impression.

"I was distressed about it and he genuinely cared," Serbesku recalled. "He had a lot of heart and it's good to see that in people that protect us."

The first wave of the procession was comprised of law enforcement officers from across Minnesota and other Midwestern states. Patrick's Mendota Heights colleagues and his family rode in the second.

Some officers wiped away tears as they drove by. As Michelle Patrick rode by in a black limousine following her husband's hearse, she offered a simple wave.

People waited outside Acacia Park Cemetery well before the procession came through. Jay Davis, of Farmington, put a piece of blue electrical tape on his shirt over his heart to represent the thin blue line of law enforcement.

He didn't know Patrick, but said he was there "to help symbolize the dedication we have to our officers. It's an ugly world out there and they don't get enough recognition."

John Lindstrom, of Apple Valley, was also waiting outside the cemetery with his wife Christina. He said he's friends with Patrick's relatives and last saw Patrick in the spring.

The officer was "smiling and telling jokes, Lindstrom said. "You couldn't get him mad."

Asked how they were feeling, Christina Lindstrom said: "I think 'devastated' would be a good word."

One week and a few hours after Patrick's death, the procession pulled into the cemetery. Bells rang out 272 times -- one for each officer killed in the line of duty in Minnesota.

A horse-drawn caisson brought Patrick's casket, draped in an American flag, to its final resting place. Row after row of uniformed officers stood by his family at his grave.

A rifle squad fired a three-volley salute. Bagpipers played "Amazing Grace."

Then came the final radio call from a Dakota County dispatcher:

"Calling 2231. ... Officer Scott Patrick, badge 2231 is out of service, end of watch July 30, 2014. Mendota Heights police department badge 2231 is 10-7."

A bell rang 22 times, one of each year of Patrick's career as an officer, and his tour of duty came to an end.

Copyright 2014 the Pioneer Press

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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