Unknown to the general public, 4 months before he was killed, Officer Scott Patrick filed a lawsuit against the City of Mendota Heights, claiming whistleblower harassment and workplace retaliation. His widow, Michelle, recently filed a motion to keep the lawsuit alive, even after her husband's death. It wasn't until then she discovered the extent and magnitude of the trouble he was having at work.
"I have come across some paperwork stuff and learned he was bullied at work,” Michelle said. "And it's really hard because I didn't understand beforehand. He kept a lot he didn't want us to know. I knew things weren't right at work, but I left it up to him to tell us."
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.
"They were pushing him out," Michelle said.
And just days before he was killed, Patrick was suspended once more, for a day, for failing to turn over the audio recordings he'd made documenting his conversations with the chief.
Michelle 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?”
Fox 9 reached out to Chief Aschenbrener and to Mendota Heights Mayor Sandra Krebsbach. They both declined interviews. In an email, the city's attorney said: "The reasons for disciplining Patrick are well-founded and supported…While the lawsuit was pending, Officer Patrick was tragically killed in the line of duty. Like all Minnesotans, the city was shocked and saddened by his death. The city extended and continues to extend its condolences to Officer Patrick's widow, children, friends, and family members."
Patrick's coworkers have rallied around the family, even taking his daughter, Amy, to a Father-Daughter Dance at School. But for those he left behind there is also an undeniable anger.
"Those are the people who took my father away from me while he was still living,” his oldest daughter Erin said.
"Every time I hear the chief talk it's all lies, coming up with whatever he can about Scott. In reality, I think he's glad Scott's dead. It's a thorn out of his side,” Michelle said.
To some, a picnic table may sound like a petty issue to risk a career. But Michelle said her husband was a man who had a clear sense of right and wrong, and she has no doubt he died a hero -- all the more so for what he had to endure on the job.
A Dakota County judge ruled earlier this month that Patrick's lawsuit can continue, with Michelle acting his surrogate. The city is asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit. A civil trial is scheduled for July.