Wounded Mahnomen deputy in grave condition

Dewey and his wife
Mahnomen County deputy Chris Dewey, shown here with his wife Emily in a photo from January 2010. Dewey was shot in the head in the line of duty in February 2009, and family members now say he is near death due to complications.
Photo courtesy of CaringBridge

The condition of a Mahnomen County deputy shot in the line of duty last year has taken a turn for the worse, and he is now in hospice care.

Deputy Chris Dewey was shot in February 2009 while investigating a suspected drunken driver. He was making progress at a Denver rehabilitation facility, but then suffered a series of setbacks. He returned to Minnesota earlier this year and is now in a health care facility in North Branch.

Mahnomen County is 600 square miles of farms and woods in northwestern Minnesota. Sheriff Douglas Krier said his department had never experienced the loss of an active deputy until Chris Dewey was shot. Krier said he'll never forget how it started.

"Chris was investigating a situation when the incident happened," he said. "I can't go into too many details, but his partner responded, and Chris was taken to Mahnomen Hospital, where he was later airlifted to Fargo.

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"We ended up in a 9-hour standoff with the suspects. I remember the day, it was February 18, it was 22 below zero and the wind chill was 38 below zero."

Krier can't go into a lot of detail because the suspected shooter, Thomas Fairbanks, has yet to face trial. An accomplice, Daniel Vernier, is serving two years in prison.

Sheriff Krier said Chris Dewey was soft-spoken and calm -- good qualities in a deputy.

Deputy Chris Dewey
Deputy Chris Dewey before the shooting.
Photo courtesy of Mahnomen County Sheriff's Department

"He was a really big teddy bear," Krier said. "Before the incident he was about 6 feet 2 inches, and about 240 [pounds], so he was a big guy.

"He was really good with computers, and I'm not," he said. "So every time something went wrong, I would turn around and say, 'Chris!' (and he'd respond) 'All right, get out of my way, I'll sit down and fix it.'"

Chris Dewey, 28, was a deputy for four years and has been married to his high school sweetheart, Emily, for four years.

"At the time of the incident they had planned on starting a family, but it wasn't meant to be," Krier said.

Emily Dewey was studying to be a nurse, and she's been updating a Caring Bridge website tracking her husband's treatment.

After an early recovery that surprised his doctors, Chris Dewey has had a string of complications that included a brain hemorrhage, and a collapsed lung which is putting pressure on his heart. He's been unable to talk since last fall.

His uncle, Eric Dewey, worked alongside Chris in restaurants when he was younger.

"His attitude, demeanor, personality, he cares about people genuinely," Eric Dewey said. "He'd give a guy the shirt off his back in a heartbeat. Even somebody he arrested multiple times up there in Mahnomen ... after it happened, sent [Chris Dewey] a letter, from jail, of get-well wishes, 'Sorry to see it happen to someone so nice.'"

Krier said Chris Dewey struggled during therapy and was upset about having to wear a therapeutic helmet.

"He absolutely hated that thing, just did not want to wear it," Krier said. "And he made the comment one time, he said, 'You know, when I get out of here and this thing is done, I'm going to take that thing and blow it up.'"

Dewey got his wish Thursday night when the Minneapolis Bomb Squad showed up.

"They took his helmet and put it out in the field and ran the wire back to Chris," Krier said. "They put him in his wheelchair, and got him outside, and yelled, 'Fire in the hole!' three times. And Emily and Chris pushed the button and blew that helmet up."

Doctors have told the family Dewey likely will only live a few more days. A fundraiser is tentatively planned for Aug. 28 in Cambridge.

(MPR reporters Elizabeth Dunbar and Madeleine Baran contributed to this report)