Morrow police chief charged with DUI

Morrow Police Chief Jeff Baker was in an official city-owned car when he was arrested for driving under the influence, and refused to submit to a state-administered chemical test for alcohol in his blood, according to arrest warrants.

One of Baker's officers initiated the traffic stop that led to his arrest, according to reports filed by Clayton County Police Officer Bret Bell. Bell assisted Morrow Police Sgt. B. Smith in the arrest that started about 8:50 p.m., at Southlake Parkway and Ga. 54 in Morrow.

Smith said Baker fell asleep at the wheel of the 2008 Dodge while waiting for the light to change. Smith said he parked his patrol car "nose-to-nose" with his chief's car to keep it from entering the intersection and approached the driver's window. Smith said Baker woke up when Smith activated his overhead lights. Baker then gave Smith a "thumbs-up."

Baker tried to unlock or lower a window to speak to Smith, but fumbled and was able to lower a rear window, said Smith. Smith said he could smell alcohol and observed Baker's eyes to be red and glassy. Baker's speech was slurred, he said.

Baker argued with Smith when he told him he'd fallen asleep at the wheel, telling Smith he was waiting for the light to change. Smith told him it had cycled through twice. Smith told Baker to pull off the roadway so he could check to see that he was OK to drive.

"I will get right on it, buddy," Baker reportedly told Smith, but did not move his car. Smith told Baker to put his car in park, but Baker reversed his car and drove around the patrol car onto Ga. 54. Smith followed Baker and observed him crossing over the lane divider lines and jerk back into his lane. Smith said Baker was driving faster than the posted 40 mph on South Lee Street toward the police department.

Baker pulled into his parking space at the police department, said Smith.

Bell continued the traffic stop from the police department. Bell said he found Baker in the rear of the building smoking a cigarette. Bell said he could smell the "overwhelming" odor of alcohol about Baker's breath and body. When Bell told Baker why he was there, Baker reportedly said, "Yeah, OK."

Bell said he asked Baker to come to the front of the building to talk.

"The offender asked why and I advised him again that I wanted to make sure he was OK to drive," Bell states in his report. "The offender stated, 'Sure, but I'm not driving.'"

When Bell asked him how much alcohol he'd consumed, Baker said, "What does that matter?" Baker then refused to perform field sobriety tests or to blow into a portable breath tester, said Bell. Baker also refused to submit to a state administered chemical test of his blood under the implied consent law.

A search of Baker's official car turned up eight 12-ounce open cans of Natural Light beer, all one-eighth full, and within reach of the driver. Bell said he found an ice chest in the rear seat with two unopened bottles of Mike's Hard Lemonade and seven Natural Light beer caps.

Baker, 43, of Morrow, was booked into the jail at 1:22 a.m. He has been charged with DUI, running a red light, impeding traffic, open container, driving too fast for conditions, improper lane change and failure to obey a person directing traffic. According to jail records, he bonded out at 4:42 a.m., foregoing his right to a first appearance hearing Thursday afternoon.

Baker did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. It was not known if Baker had an attorney.

Morrow Police Sgt. Larry Oglesby said Baker has been put on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation by an outside agency. Oglesby said captains will oversee the day-to-day operations of the department.

"We'll have people in place to run the department until the investigation is completed," he said. "We will continue to protect and serve the citizens of Morrow."

The incident is being investigated jointly by the Morrow and Clayton County police departments. The Georgia Bureau of Investigations could be called in for assistance, if necessary, said GBI Spokesman John Bankhead.

“Under Georgia law, the GBI would have to be requested by local authorities to become involved,” he said. “But the GBI is rarely ever asked to be involved in DUI investigations or matters related to traffic or driving violations.”

Morrow City Manager Jeff Eady said the city government will conduct its own investigation separate from an internal law enforcement investigation. Eady will lead the investigation, which will focus on whether Baker violated city personnel policies. It will take at least two weeks to complete.

“It’s nothing I’m going to rush,” Eady said. “I’m going to take my time, and do a thorough job investigating what happened. It’s a bad day, it’s a sad day for the city. It’s certainly not anything you want to go through as a city manager, but it’s just something that’s part of the job.”

Baker’s alleged behavior constitutes at least one policy violation concerning alcoholic beverages, said Eady. Additional violations could be discovered during the course of the city’s investigation.

“It could be one violation, or it could three [or more] violations,” he said. “As far as violations go, there would [at least] be misuse of a city vehicle. We have a specific policy that forbids employees from having alcoholic beverages in city-owned vehicles.”

Eady said he will brief members of the Morrow City Council on the incident during the Nov. 22 regular meeting. Because it is a personnel issue, the discussion will likely happen during a closed-door session.

Baker came under fire in 2008 when he was investigated by the Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training Council. Baker was accused of falsifying firearm training documents by signing his name to a roster for a class he did not attend. He was also cited for refusing to take a polygraph test about the training.

Baker joined the Morrow department in September 2005 as captain over the Uniform Patrol Division. He was sworn in as chief in February 2006. According to the city’s web site, he has more than 20 years of law enforcement experience, including as SWAT Team commander. He was a supervisor with the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office in the Uniform Patrol Division, COPS Division and commander of the Narcotics and Vice Unit.

Baker's previous experience also includes the job of chief investigator of the Rockdale County Juvenile Court, investigator for the Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office, a special agent in narcotics and crime scene investigator. He has also served as a District 10 representative for the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police.


–– Staff writer Curt Yeomans contributed to this article.