Partner recounts day of Dewey's shooting
CROOKSTON - The sheriff's officer who shot Thomas Fairbanks testified Thursday morning that he found his partner, Deputy Christopher Dewey, down in the snow outside Fairbanks' trailer home in Mahnomen, wounded and struggling vainly to get up.
Like Dewey, Chad Peterson was a deputy with the Mahnomen County Sheriff's Office and was patrolling with Dewey in the early morning hours of Feb. 18, 2009, when they got the first call about a drunken driver in Mahnomen and then later calls about shots being fired near Fairbanks' home.
Their response led within a couple of hours to Dewey lying wounded in the driveway near the garage and front door of Fairbanks' home.
Charged with first-degree murder in the shooting that took Dewey's life 18 months later in hospice care, Fairbanks, if convicted, faces a sentence of life in prison without parole. He also faces assault charges alleging he fired at other law enforcement officers, tried to steal Dewey's squad car and failed to assist Dewey after he was shot.
Peterson said he started a new job this week with the Becker County Sheriff's Office, but on Thursday he wore a Mahnomen County deputy's uniform in court, the one he has worn for eight years, complete with duty belt and gun.
He gave clipped, matter-of-fact answers to prosecutor Eric Schieferdecker about how he and Dewey responded together to the call shortly before dawn involving Fairbanks and his accomplice, Daniel Vernier, and how they split up to patrol the neighborhood to find out what was going on.
Asked about the events leading up to Dewey's shooting, Peterson had to pause, chin trembling, to gather himself. He had been instructed by Schieferdecker - who had been prompted by a complaint from defense attorney Ed Hellekson - to stop referring to Deputy Dewey as "Chris."
A block or two away from Fairbanks' home, where he had split up from Dewey, with his window rolled down in the winter dawn to listen, Peterson said, "I heard shots fired."
"I called Chris - er, Deputy Dewey on his radio, but he didn't answer," Peterson said, his flat voice faltering. "I could see two individuals circling around Deputy Dewey's squad car."
As he got closer, he saw the man on the driver's side holding a pistol in his left hand while the squad car slowly rolled backward.
Peterson's first thought, he said, was that the two men had shot Dewey inside his squad car.
"I fired a series of three shots," he told the jury under Schieferdecker's questioning.
The first, taken without aiming, but rather, "pointing," hit a pickup truck parked nearby, Peterson said. The second, which he more carefully aimed as the man ran into the house, seemed to hit him. The third shot was inadvertent, Peterson said, and he pulled up his handgun so the bullet would not hit anyone else in the home and hit high in the door sill.
Peterson then checked Dewey's car and found it empty. He stopped it, putting the transmission in park.
He called for an ambulance, saying a deputy had been shot and kept trying to reach Dewey by radio as law enforcement officers began showing up to the call of an officer down.
'He was limp'
What did he do then? Schieferdecker asked.
"I went to Deputy Dewey," Peterson said, obviously struggling to control his emotions. "He was in front of the garage. ... He was shot in the head. He was trying to push up with his arm and trying to use one leg to balance himself. ... He was requesting an ambulance."
The ambulance was on the way, but Peterson said because "it was a hot scene, I was afraid" the ambulance wouldn't pull up to Dewey at the house where "some guy just shot a cop."
Peterson tried to help Dewey up, then another deputy showed up and both tried to get Dewey into a vehicle, first a squad car.
"We couldn't. He was a big man and he was limp ... due to his injury. We didn't want to hurt him any more," Peterson said, his voice tight. Another deputy backed up his pickup truck and they tried to get Dewey into the box in back.
"But we couldn't. It didn't help," he said.
Dewey was 6 feet tall and weighed 250 pounds at the time he was shot, Schieferdecker told the jury during his opening argument Wednesday. He weighed 123 pounds when he died in hospice care Aug. 9, 2010.
It was later determined that Peterson's second shot hit Fairbanks in the back. After he surrendered about nine hours after Dewey was shot, Fairbanks was treated for the wound, which wasn't serious, according to statements made by attorneys during opening arguments.
Schieferdecker asked other officers who had responded to the scene that day if they heard gunshots during the ensuing nine-hour standoff in Fairbanks' trailer home.
Several said they heard two about 8:30 a.m., another about 9:10 a.m.
Fairbanks' accomplice, Daniel Vernier, surrendered about 9:30 a.m., dropping the 9 mm Sig Sauer handgun used to shoot Dewey on the snow-covered ground to be retrieved by a robot. Fairbanks had shot Vernier in the leg, apparently accidentally, inside the trailer that morning, one of several shots fired inside, according to attorneys' statements during opening arguments. The wound was superficial enough that the two men just sat down and continued drinking, according to statements.
The defense didn't spend long periods cross-examining Peterson and other law enforcement officers who testified Thursday. Defense attorney Hellekson and Jim Austad, representing Fairbanks, mostly tried to raise questions about exactly what the officers could see and hear for certain about shots fired after Dewey had been shot.
The intent question
During his opening argument, Hellekson told the jury that Fairbanks shot Dewey with a 9 mm Sig Sauer handgun, but that evidence will show he was too intoxicated to form the criminal intent needed to prove first-degree murder.
Fairbanks will testify later in the trial, Hellekson told the jury.
Vernier pleaded guilty in 2009 to one count of failing to assist Dewey after he was shot in return for a sentence of two years and agreeing to testify against Fairbanks.
Stephen J. Lee writes for the Grand Forks Herald