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A police officer killed in North St. Paul; another Minnesotan killed in Somalia

PLUS: A tragic fatality in church, Pawlenty’s approval rating and distracted-driving problems.

As dangerous as policework is, it’s relatively rare for a Minnesota police officer to actually get gunned down in the line of duty — according to the Officer Down website, four Minnesota officers have died from gunfire since 2000, with the most recent, until this weekend, being St. Paul Sgt. Gerald Dennis Vick, who was killed in 2005 during an undercover sting operation. Most police who die on the job go the way almost everybody else does, from heart attacks or in car crashes (although, in some of those cases, the officers were deliberately crashed into.)

Officer Richard Crittenden was shot to death Monday morning in North St. Paul — he’s the fourth officer killed by gunfire since 2000, and the first ever in North St. Paul. Three reporters from Minnesota Public Radio — Tom Weber, Martin Moylan, and Tim Post — chase down the details, such as they are: Crittenden and another officer were responding to a domestic dispute call, and it quickly turned violent. Crittenden was fatally shot, his partner was wounded, and the suspect was killed. They quote North St. Paul Police Chief Tom Lauth: “Domestic disturbances are probably one of the more familiar calls that we have that we respond to. Unfortunately, we respond to so many of them, we may develop a certain nonchalance … because we do so many of them.”

The shooter was a fellow named Devon Dockery, a 34-year-old with a long rap sheet, as Herón Márquez Estrada details for the Star Tribune, including “charges of making terroristic threats, domestic abuse and unlawful possession of a handgun.” In fact, Dockery did five years for the weapons violation, having reportedly pointed a gun at his wife. It’s unclear why the encounter with Dockery turned violent, but  the shock of it is palatable in photos of grieving officers found on both the Pioneer Press’ and the Star Tribune’s websites. “We have a very difficult week in front of us,” Lauth tells the Strib.

Of the 20 Somali-American men from Minnesota who disappeared last year to fight in Somalia, five of them are dead. As reported by John Lauritsen of WCCO, Mohamoud Hassan died in a conflict with Somali government soldiers. Hassan was reportedly fighting for al-Shabaab, an Islamist insurgency group that has been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, according to the U.S. Department of State’s web page. Laura Yuen of MPR offers a mournful interview with the young man’s mother and sister: “They killed him, they killed him,” one says.

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These deaths in Somali have prompted a federal probe that, in turn, has prompted fears of arrest in Minnesota’s Somali community. Richard Meryhew and James Walsh of the Star Tribune explain, quoting attorney Stephen L. Smith: “You can find yourself getting caught up in the conspiracy dragnet,” Smith says, saying that Minnesota Somalis are afraid of being seen as guilty by association. According to Smith, a common concern among Minnesotan Somalis is “When will I get a call from the FBI? When will I get a knock on my door?

Wheaton, Minn., was the site of an especially tragic and stupid fatality Thursday. Vince Tuss of the Star Tribune tells of two men who stormed a prayer meeting at the Thy Kingdom Come church in Wheaton. The men were reportedly upset about whom the church’s pastor had given a washer and dryer to, and they entered the church swinging baseball bats. One of the bats, apparently unintentionally, hit a 14-month-old girl, who later died of her injuries. The Associated Press reports an especially awful irony of the story: The suspected killer of the child had been the best man at the wedding of the child’s father.

“I just want to say I’m very sorry for all of this,” says Anthony Phillip Dzik in a story by the Duluth Tribune’s Jana Hollingsworth, reprinted in the Pioneer Press. What is it that he is sorry for? He attempted to blackmail his cousin into sending him nude photographs of her. The assistant district attorney in the case doesn’t sound especially satisfied by Dzik’s apology. “He can’t explain why he did what he did,” she tells Hollingsworth. “That’s a grave concern.”

For those curious about the content’s of Obama’s contentious speech to students, which will be delivered later today, the text of the speech is now available online. Some quotes: “Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is”; “[I]f you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country”; “I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.” No response from Tim Pawlenty so far, who called this speech “disruptive” and “uninvited” prior to reading its contents.

Speaking of Pawlenty, Smart Politics reports that the governor’s approval rating is currently about 48 percent, while 50 percent of Minnesotans disapprove of his performance. This might seem like a lot of disapproval, but Smart Politics points out that Pawlenty actually is doing pretty well in comparison with some of his colleagues nationwide: “Pawlenty is one of only five governors in the 13 states tracked by SurveyUSA who has not experienced a double-digit percentage decrease in approval rating since January of this year.”

According to Martin Moylan of MPR, a year after Minnesota banned texting while driving, it’s still a problem. The figures: “The Minnesota Department of Public Safety estimates texting and other distractions are a factor in at least 15 percent of fatal crashes. Distracted driving crashes have been killing about 80 Minnesotans a year.”

In sports: According to La Velle E. Neal III, the Twins are not yet ready to throw in the towel. The Pioneer Press’ Sean Jensen describes Friday night’s exhibition finale for the Vikings, which was played sans the team’s big guns. This left second-year receiver Darius Reynaud in the spotlight. “I had to put a show on for the coaches,” he tells the PiPress, and put on a show he did. Reynaud returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown and caught two passes.