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Experience helped 'street cop' attacked by student at Pinellas school

PALM HARBOR — As Officer Kenneth Fridlund was being stabbed by a teenager who tried to wrest his gun away, authorities say the bleeding officer disarmed the student and helped school staffers subdue him.

Then the school resource officer was rushed to a hospital for life-saving surgery. It wasn't the first time the veteran officer had to fight for his life.

Before he patrolled school hallways, Fridlund, 55, spent three decades patrolling St. Petersburg's streets. In 1985 a burglary suspect charged him. During the struggle, Fridlund shot the suspect four times.

The suspect survived.

Fridlund had many assignments in St. Petersburg: patrol, vice and narcotics, undercover surveillance. But the job was always the same: protecting the city's streets.

That experience helped him survive Tuesday's attack at Carwise Middle School, his law enforcement friends said.

"He wasn't someone who got promoted and worked at a desk," said retired St. Petersburg Detective Neil Fraley, who went to the academy with Fridlund. "He was a street cop his whole career."

• • •

Fridlund graduated from Boca Ciega High School in 1974 and joined the police academy four years later.

He earned a reputation as a skilled officer who could talk with victims and witnesses. In 1992 his sergeant — now St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon — nominated him for one of the agency's top awards. Fridlund was also commended in 1996 for helping talk a suicidal man off the top of the Pier.

"He is the most personable member of this agency," one supervisor wrote about him. He also mentored younger officers, according to his personnel file, and they looked up to him.

The most serious situation Fridlund faced as a St. Petersburg officer was the 1985 shooting. He was 29 then. The department said Fridlund fired his gun in self-defense. Later, the suspect sued the city. The case was dismissed.

That decade Fridlund joined one of St. Petersburg's elite units, an undercover surveillance group known then as the Career Criminal Unit. Its job was to track and capture criminals.

"The fact that he did 29 years on the street gives you a lot of experience, a lot of street smarts," said Fraley. "To do that for 29 years and walk away unscathed is impressive."

• • •

Fridlund retired in 2007. He joined an after-school program, then went to work as a teacher's aide for the Pinellas school district.

Then in 2009 he was hired by the Pinellas County Schools Police Department to become a school resource officer.

Fraley said it was a natural fit for Fridlund, combining his two favorite things: working with kids and being an officer.

"I used to call him kindergarten cop," Fraley said. "Then he went back to school with a real badge and a real gun."

Then came Tuesday's incident, when 13-year-old Kenny Stoltman hid 11 bottles of gasoline with wicks in a boy's restroom, Pinellas sheriff's officials said. As Fridlund responded to the restroom, Stoltman ambushed him, stabbing him in the abdomen, shoulder and arm before he was subdued, officials said.

Stoltman remained in a secure psychiatric facility on Friday. He will later be booked into juvenile detention, deputies said, on charges of attempted murder and manufacturing firebombs.

Fridlund is still recovering from emergency surgery at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa. His wife and daughter have been at his side, friends said. He may be released in a few days.

When Pinellas County schools police Chief Tom Gavin visited Fridlund in the hospital, the officer told him he was ready to go back to work — next week.

"He loves the kids, he loves being a school resource officer, he loves being a cop," said Gavin. "Put it all together and he'll be back as soon as he can."

Just not next week.

"His spirit is high," Gavin said. "But he's in a lot of pain."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy and staff writer Rita Farlow contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Experience helped 'street cop' attacked by student at Pinellas school 04/08/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 8, 2011 10:27pm]
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