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Slain Minn. officer was suing employer

At the time of Scott Patrick's murder, the Mendota Heights police officer was in the midst of a lawsuit in which he accused the city's police chief and others of harassment and workplace retaliation.

Patrick alleged violations of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act and Peace Officer Discipline Procedures Act in the civil lawsuit filed against the city and Police Chief Mike Aschenbrener in Dakota County District Court on Feb. 28, 2014, just over five months before Patrick was fatally shot during a traffic stop.

His widow, Michelle, filed a motion in late February 2015 to keep the lawsuit moving forward, and last month a county judge granted the request.

The lawsuit—stemming from a 2008 incident in which Patrick accused two fellow officers of stealing a picnic table—is claiming at least $150,000 in damages.

Reached Thursday, Aschenbrener referred questions to Jana O'Leary Sullivan, the League of Minnesota Cities attorney assigned to the case.

Sullivan denied the allegations in court documents and again on Thursday.

"The City believed then and continues to believe that the lawsuit claims have no merit," she wrote Thursday in a prepared statement.

An attorney for the law firm representing Michelle Patrick declined to comment Thursday. She could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The lawsuit alleges Patrick was "unlawfully disciplined" after he complained to Aschenbrener that he saw two Mendota Heights officers allegedly "steal" a picnic table from the site of the then-closed Lilydale Tennis and Health Club in 2008.

The lawsuit alleges that Aschenbrener later retaliated against Patrick by issuing him a one-day suspension following an internal affairs investigation into a Jan. 23, 2012, incident in which he responded to a call of motorists stuck in snow. It led to Patrick handcuffing, arresting and detaining one of the motorists who allegedly became "hostile and uncooperative," according to the lawsuit.

"In addition to the unlawful Internal Affairs Investigation," the lawsuit read, "Officer Patrick has been subjected to numerous other adverse actions, including but not limited to harassment and undue scrutiny by City employees including Chief Aschenbrener."

Patrick had documented other retaliation, including some not mentioned in the lawsuit, according to a KMSP-TV report this week. Patrick found a rat poison label in his work locker one day, and discovered a police sergeant had allegedly moved Patrick's squad car close enough to another squad car so he would not be able to get into his, KMSP reported.

Shortly before Patrick was slain, the city offered him a settlement—an early retirement—to leave the department, KMSP reported.

"They were pushing him out," Michelle Patrick told the TV station.

Reached Thursday afternoon, O'Leary Sullivan said she could not comment on specifics of the pending lawsuit, nor could she confirm or deny a settlement offer was made to Patrick because she was bound by public employment law that keeps details of separation agreements confidential.

Several months after Patrick first told Aschenbrener about the picnic table, Patrick asked him why nothing was done.

"Chief Aschenbrener told Officer Patrick that he did not view it as theft but as poor judgment," the lawsuit said.

In 2011, upon learning that Aschenbrener "had not addressed the theft," Patrick organized meetings with his police union to discuss the matter, according to the lawsuit. Patrick was a union steward at the time.

"Officer Patrick and the Union's review of the picnic table incident, which only Officer Patrick had witnessed, and other past events led them to believe the Chief Aschenbrener had failed to address allegations of misconduct as required both by Police Department policy and the Minnesota Board of Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) rules," the lawsuit said.

On Jan. 31, 2012, Patrick sent a complaint on behalf of union members to the city's administrator and the POST board, raising "specific statutes and rules that had been violated, and requested a thorough investigation into the allegations in the complaint."

The complaint was handed over to the Carver County attorney's office for review.

The investigation, which ended in April 2012, showed no evidence of criminal intent by the officers, an assistant Carver County attorney wrote in a letter to the city at the time.

According to assistant county attorney's letter, Sgt. Eric Petersen, along with another officer, a police intern and city workers, took the picnic table because of concerns it could be used by "squatters" during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

The table was placed near City Hall and later used at a barbecue for city workers. It was returned shortly after the barbecue, apparently without anyone associated with the tennis club knowing it was gone.

But in February 2012, Aschenbrener directed Sgt. Brian Convery to conduct an internal affairs investigation into the January 2012 arrest of the motorist to determine whether Patrick had committed any violations of department policies and/or statutes.

At a prosecutor's request, a disorderly conduct charge against the motorist was dismissed.

About two months after Patrick gave his formal statement regarding the incident, Aschenbrener met with Patrick to let him know he was being suspended one day.

The union challenged the discipline and the city denied the grievances.

An arbitrator issued a decision on March 1, 2013, reducing the discipline to a written warning after concluding that one day was "excessive."

The lawsuit also alleges that Patrick was issued an April 19, 2012, written reprimand for "insufficient patrol activity" during a shift on Feb. 5, 2012. The officer argued he had lower patrol activity than normal because he was working on an investigation for city administration.

After the police union challenged the discipline, the union and city agreed the written reprimand would be reduced to an oral reprimand.

But according to the lawsuit, the written reprimand remained in Patrick's personnel file without his knowledge.

With 19 years of service, Patrick, 47, was the department's most senior officer when he was fatally shot July 30, 2014, during a traffic stop in West St. Paul. In February, Brian Fitch Sr., a 40-year-old drug dealer with outstanding warrants, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

On May 15, Patrick's name will be etched onto the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service

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