The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

July 18, 2011

Officer suspended for May off-duty hit-and-run

MANKATO — A Mankato police officer who pleaded guilty last month to being the driver in a May hit-and-run crash has been suspended for 60 days without pay.

What is described as a “last chance agreement” was reached with officer Kenneth Baker and the city’s patrol officers’ union Friday.

 Baker, who has been a Mankato police officer since November 2009, was involved in an off-duty hit-and-run crash at 2:20 a.m. May 27 that damaged two retaining walls and two parked cars. After Baker’s superiors identified him as a suspect, he refused to cooperate with their request for an interview, court records said.

Baker, 35, who was initially placed on paid administrative leave, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of careless driving June 24. The incident was reported in The Free Press on July 3. Three days after that, Baker received a letter from City Manager Pat Hentges that placed him on a 60-day suspension without pay.

“Your actions brought discredit not only to yourself but also to the Department of Public Safety and the City of Mankato,” the letter said. “Your decisions reflect poorly on you, the department and may have damaged the relationships with your colleagues and the public which are crucial for you to be successful in your position with the City of Mankato. You will need to find a way to restore that trust and repair those relationships.”

The agreement reached Friday required Baker to obtain a chemical use assessment and follow its recommendations, participate in a “restorative roundtable” discussion with other city employees and write a letter of apology. Failure to comply with the agreement, any similar acts or any future acts of insubordination could result in additional discipline or termination, the agreement said.

A copy of Baker’s letter of apology was released by the city Monday. In it, Baker said the incident was an embarrassment to himself, the Department of Public Safety and the city. He also said he has taken steps to ensure he is never in a similar situation and that he hopes others can learn from his mistakes.

“With this letter I offer my most sincere and utmost apologies to all of you, but am not asking for, nor do I expect immediate forgiveness,” Baker’s letter said. “Instead, I offer my promise and oath to earn it by demonstrating a continued dedication to serving our wonderful community in the manner which it deserves — with loyalty, courage, integrity, respect for others and in the interest of the greater good for the community as a whole.”

Witnesses of the hit-and-run incident said Baker returned to the scene of the crash on foot, found out no one was able to identify him, grabbed a bumper and license plate that had fallen off his car and ran away again. One witness followed, watched him put the bumper in a car that was missing a wheel and saw him drive away.

Papers that were left at the scene of the crash, along with the wheel that had fallen off the car, identified Baker as a possible driver. Officers who were on duty followed a fluid leak to Baker’s house. He wasn’t arrested that morning, but agreed to speak to officers about 10 hours later.

Baker admitted to being at three downtown bars, leaving the last one around closing time. He said he crashed after dropping his cellphone and attempting to pick it up off the floor of the car.

Baker is scheduled to return to work Sept. 5.

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