(KMSP) - Four months before he was killed in the line of duty, Officer Scott Patrick filed a lawsuit against the City of Mendota Heights, claiming whistleblower harassment and workplace retaliation. A settlement has been reached in that lawsuit, paying damages to his family and taking steps to ensure Officer Patrick is forever remembered.
Terms of the settlement
On behalf of the city of Mendota Heights, the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust will pay $50,000 -- $28,786.40 to Michelle Patrick and $21,213.60 to her attorneys.
“The City of Mendota Heights has settled an employment-related lawsuit brought in February 2014 by the late Officer Scott Patrick, who died in the line of duty in July 2014. Following Officer Patrick’s death, the lawsuit—which was unrelated to his death—was continued by his widow Michelle Patrick.
“The City and Ms. Patrick settled this case following a voluntary mediation with a mediator they mutually selected. Rather than engage in protracted litigation, the City and Ms. Patrick agreed it is in their best interests to resolve the dispute.
“The City is grateful for Officer Patrick’s years of dedicated service and for the ultimate sacrifice he gave in performing his police duties. The City continues to extend its condolences to Ms. Patrick, their daughters, and Officer Patrick’s friends, family members, and colleagues. It is expected that in the future, the City and Ms. Patrick will continue to work together to commemorate Officer Patrick’s service and sacrifice in various ways. This may include flying the American flag at half-staff outside of City Hall on July 30th of each year; having a moment of silence at the time of his death; and displaying a painting of him. The City has also established a memorial committee, which will include Ms. Patrick, City Council members, and police officers that will be tasked with ensuring Officer Patrick’s sacrifice is not forgotten. The City wishes Ms. Patrick and her daughters well in all their future endeavors.”
According to the lawsuit, the trouble began 7 years ago, when Officer Patrick saw 2 fellow officers moving a picnic table to city hall from the old Lilydale Tennis Club, which was being demolished. Patrick reported what he considered to be a property theft by city employees to Mendota Heights Police Chief Michael Aschenbrener, who, according to the lawsuit, thought it wasn't theft but a "mistake in judgment." Patrick filed a complaint against the chief alleging "a pattern of questionable ethics and criminal violations."
In January of 2012, Chief Aschenbrener suspended Patrick for a week, after Patrick arrested a stranded motorist for disorderly conduct. A snow plow driver backed up the officer's story, saying the woman was angry, and said Patrick "was dealing with her the best he could." He was also criticized for not having his squad car video activated. On appeal, a state mediator reduced the punishment to just a written reprimand.
Patrick documented the retaliation -- what he interpreted as payback. One day, his squad car was moved by a sergeant who parked it just inches away from another squad, keeping Patrick, who was admittedly overweight, from getting into his squad. There was also the time a label of rat poisoning was allegedly slipped into Patrick's locker. The officer didn't tell his wife about either incident. Same story with an email he received from the city shortly before he was killed. The city was offering him a settlement, early retirement, to leave the department.
Michelle Patrick believes the stress of being a whistleblower and of working in an allegedly hostile work environment may have, in some small but very real way, contributed to his killing. In the video from the day he was killed, viewers can see Officer Patrick has a pronounced eye twitch that Michelle says he developed from stress. And in the final seconds of his life, when Officer Patrick gets out of his squad, he looks down, turning on his microphone, just as the gunman, Brian Fitch, opens fire.
"He was worried about, after the fact, of how was the city and the chief are going to look at this report," Michelle said. "How did I screw up even though I did everything right?"