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Dave Roepke, Published June 20 2009

Dewey’s partner Minnesota Police Officer of the Year

It was the sort of scenario officers face in training sessions but rarely see outside of movies and TV.

Mahnomen County Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Peterson heard gunshots as he and his partner were patrolling on foot, seeking suspects in a reported drunken-driving incident. In frigid morning air shortly before sunrise on Feb. 18, he raced toward the sound and saw two men, one with a gun, running for his partner’s car.

Peterson shot one of the two suspects and then found his partner, Christopher Dewey, nearby, shot in the head and stomach. It was a textbook job of balancing duty and safety, said Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association.

“It had to be more stressful than the average human being could ever possibly manage,” Flaherty said of that moment.

Peterson’s steady-headed reaction is why Flaherty’s organization named him its Minnesota Police Officer of the Year this past week.

Without Peterson, Dewey may have died, and the pair of suspects might not be in custody, Dewey’s wife, Emily, wrote on Wednesday in her online journal at CaringBridge.org. Flaherty also believes Peterson’s quick action was essential.

“There was no question they would have fled if he hadn’t been successful in wounding one of them,” he said of the suspects.

But given the circumstances, the award is bittersweet, said Doug Krier, Mahnomen County Sheriff.

Through Krier, Peterson declined an interview.

“He feels he was just doing his job. He would do that for anybody. That’s actually the kind of person he is. He doesn’t really need to sit in the limelight or have the glory,” Krier said.

Peterson, a 35-year-old who joined the department in May 2003, was good friends with Dewey, Krier said. Both were volunteer firemen, and like many on the county’s close-knit, 13-officer force, they socialized after hours. Krier and Peterson traveled together in mid-April to see Dewey in Colorado, where he is rehabilitating at a trauma center.

Though Peterson reacted well to a situation Flaherty said would “strike fear in the heart of the most seasoned officer,” the incident has prompted Krier to add extra training for his staff to deal with shooters.

“If it happened once, it could happen again,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535