With just a week left on the job until his retirement, Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel stood grim-faced Thursday night and recounted the allegations against one of his veteran employees.
So strong is the evidence against Officer Gary Baker, 49, Braziel said, that he had fired Baker earlier that day – the same day Baker’s colleagues arrested him on suspicion of sexually assaulting an elderly woman with a serious speech impairment caused by a stroke.
“It does not shed a trusting light on the Sacramento Police Department,” a somber Braziel said in a hastily called news conference. “Baker is not an accurate representation of the fine men and women of the department.”
Baker, who had been with the department 22 years, is accused of raping and assaulting a now-78-year-old woman in three attacks, beginning in 2010 and ending earlier this month. He faces charges of rape, forcible oral copulation, attempted oral copulation, assault with intent to commit rape and sexual battery, according to court documents.
As of late Thursday, Baker was being held in the Sacramento County Main Jail in lieu of $1 million bail.
The alleged attacks occurred while Baker was off-duty, Braziel said. However, police believe he met the victim through the course of his work patrolling her Meadowview neighborhood.
Braziel said the case began in November 2010, when officers were called to South Manor Drive for a report that a woman, then 76, had been sexually assaulted.
The woman had previously suffered a stroke and, though able to live independently, had suffered significant impairment to her speech. However, she was able to describe her attacker’s appearance to police, and said he was a police or security officer, according to the request for an arrest warrant filed by Sacramento police detectives.
Officers at the scene collected DNA evidence from the victim’s nylons and uploaded the profile into a DNA database, but there were no hits, Braziel said.
Nearly two years later, the victim reported a second attack. Then on Sept. 20, the woman told police her assailant had returned and sexually assaulted her again. In both crimes, the victim – who in some cases had to act out the attack – indicated to police that she had repeatedly told the suspect “no,” according to the warrant affidavit.
The same assailant allegedly returned Dec. 11 and attempted to assault the victim, but fled when she activated an alarm, the affidavit states. At that time, police recommended that the victim’s family install a surveillance camera, and they followed that advice.
On Monday, someone knocked at the victim’s door, but she did not answer. She alerted her son, according to police, who reviewed surveillance footage and thought an image of the attacker might have been captured. A detective reviewed the images Tuesday and immediately recognized the man as Baker, Braziel said.
Baker immediately was put on paid administrative leave, according to police.
Detectives worked with the District Attorney’s Office through the night to obtain a search warrant, Braziel said. On Wednesday, they obtained Baker’s DNA, and through expedited tests, the district attorney’s crime lab matched Baker’s DNA to the sample collected after the first assault, Braziel said.
Police arrested Baker on Thursday. That same day, Braziel took the unusual step of firing the officer. Often, law enforcement officers accused of crimes are kept on administrative leave pending the outcome of their criminal case – or until they quit.
Braziel said Baker had never had any administrative issues and said he had no explanation for the suspect’s alleged actions.
There appears to be no connection between the suspect and the victim, other than the fact the two had apparently come into contact earlier in the day of the first attack.
At that time, Baker was on duty, in uniform, and apparently spoke to the victim in the course of his job, Braziel said. When the assault occurred later, Baker was off-duty and no longer in uniform or driving a marked patrol car.
Crime lab analysts found only one hit with Baker’s DNA – the victim’s sample, Braziel said. However, investigators are reviewing sex assault cases in which no DNA was collected to see if there are any other potential links.
Braziel said he was “very, very angry and very, very disappointed” when he was briefed on the case. He said he and his employees would “work tirelessly” to restore the public’s trust in the department.
Before the news conference, he said, he talked to the victim and her family by speakerphone and updated them on the arrest. He also apologized.
“I’m the leader of this organization. When something happens like this that embarrasses the organization, the buck stops here,” he told reporters. “That’s why I’m here.”
Baker is scheduled to be arraigned Monday.