Former Morrow police chief, Jeff Baker, pleaded guilty Wednesday to drunk-driving charges, as prosecutors prepared to bring the case against him to trial.
Baker, 44, will serve 12 months probation for the plea to DUI, and running a red light. Five other misdemeanors were dropped, said Clayton County Solicitor General Tasha Mosley.
Baker was arrested in November when one of his own officers found him passed out behind the wheel of his city-issued Dodge Charger.
In addition to probation, Baker will pay a $700 fine, serve 150 hours of community service, undergo drug-and-alcohol evaluation, and random substance testing. Mosley said Baker cannot be employed by a county, or city government, while on probation.
"Educating youths will be part of his community service," she said. "He has to go out and tell his story to young people."
Baker did not address the court during the plea hearing, except to answer "yes," or "no," in response to State Court Judge Morris Braswell's questions.
Mosley said she had witnesses lined up to testify to the events leading up to Baker's arrest, but was satisfied the case was resolved through a plea.
"I think it was the best outcome," she said. "He stepped up and took responsibility for his actions. He admitted he was wrong, and didn't try to blame anyone."
Mosley said the timeline of events leading up to Baker's arrest was firmed up right away based on the statements of witnesses, and what police found in Baker's car. However, the question of where Baker drank the alcohol that led to his impairment wasn't immediately apparent.
"We knew what happened from the time the witnesses saw him at the red light at Ga. 54, but we didn't know where he was before that," she said. "When we found the receipt from Red Lobster, we were able to pinpoint where he'd had the alcohol."
Mosley said the receipt, time-stamped 7:50 p.m., showed Baker dined alone at the Tara Boulevard location. He ate lobster and shrimp and drank two Top Shelf margaritas, spending about $50, including a $6 tip, she said.
"That was the smoking gun," she said. "The receipt was in his stuff [belongings], and the city turned it over to us. There was never an attempt by the city to cover up anything. They turned over everything we asked for."
Morrow city officials said they wish Baker "well."
"I have read the plea agreement and I'm confident our former chief made his
decision based on what is best for himself and his family," said City Manager Jeff Eady. "We at the City of Morrow wish Jeff well."
Mosley said finding the receipt made it easier to determine the minimum amount of alcohol Baker drank that night. "They all remembered him at the Red Lobster," said Mosley. "They knew him. The guy at Red Lobster told us there were at least 5 ounces of alcohol in each of the two drinks Mr. Baker ordered. There may have been a bit more, because customers will sometimes complain about not being able to taste or smell the alcohol in the drinks."
But police also found beer and Mike's Hard Lemonade inside the city-owned Dodge. Mosley said the back floorboard was wet from spilled beer. Even the next day, she said, the car still smelled of alcohol. Baker refused field-sobriety tests and the drawing of his blood to measure his blood-alcohol level, so no one knows how intoxicated Baker was that night. Because he refused the field tests, Baker's driver’s license will likely be suspended for a year.
Baker was charged as being DUI as a less safe driver. "It was only by the grace of God he didn't hurt himself or someone else," said Mosley. "I think he's remorseful. He stepped up as a man, and didn't put his former staff through a trial. They didn't want to have to do that. This was their chief."
Baker joined the Morrow department in September 2005 as captain over the Uniform Patrol Division. He was sworn in as chief in February 2006. Baker put in more than 20 years as a police officer, including service with the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office.
However, he lost his certification from Georgia Peace Officers and Standards Council, last month. He can re-apply in two years.
Mosley said she hopes he is able to rebound. "Effectively, for right now, his police career is over," she said. "I wish him a lot of luck, because it's got to be a tough one for him."