MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. (AP) — A Dakota County judge who sentenced a man to drug treatment rather than prison for a 2012 beating says he questioned his own decision after the man was accused of shooting and killing a Mendota Heights police officer last week.
Brian George Fitch Sr. was charged Friday with first-degree murder in the death of Officer Scott Patrick.
Fitch was previously convicted of beating a man whom he suspected had sex with Fitch's girlfriend. Dakota County prosecutors asked that Fitch be sent to prison for three years, but Judge Richard Spicer sentenced him to time served and ordered him placed in a drug-treatment program.
"At the time, I felt society was better off with him being treated than with him being warehoused . and put back on the street untreated," Spicer told the Minneapolis Star Tribune (http://strib.mn/XvTN1U ). "Of course, if I knew then what I know now, I might have made a different decision."
Spicer said he doesn't believe prison is always the best place for people with drug problems. He said his general philosophy was to search out reasonable alternatives when appropriate.
"It's a terrible tragedy. And of course, I feel awful," Spicer said. He added, "I grieve for the family. I'm sure they blame me."
Even before the 2012 case, Fitch was involved in other offenses that could have landed him in jail. Instead his record reveals a series of plea deals, dismissed charges and treatment options.
The emerging portrait has left some law enforcement officials frustrated, although they acknowledge they have the benefit of hindsight.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said Spicer's decision to send Fitch to drug treatment instead of prison was "not appropriate for violent criminals."
Fitch was 10 when he was arrested for marijuana possession. By age 17 he'd served time for car theft and check forgery, and a few years later he was sentenced to three years for aggravated assault.
When he was convicted in the 2012 assault, he wrote two letters to Spicer describing a methamphetamine addiction that he said he developed after he was shot in 2008. He mentioned his four children and his anger-management classes, and he asked for another chance.
"I trust you will see that giving me a chance to avoid prison would be a good thing," Fitch wrote.
Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com