Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Alexandria city officials rallied around beleaguered police Chief David P. Baker on Monday after his weekend arrest on drunken-driving charges.

Council members reached by The Washington Times said they would reserve judgment until the facts of the case are established.

“Chief Baker has an outstanding track record and has done a lot to make Alexandria a safer place” said council member Rob Krupicka. “I think he is universally well-regarded.”

Chief Baker, 58, was arrested Saturday about 11 p.m. in Arlington County on a DUI charge while driving a city-issued, unmarked car. Officials said a breathalyzer test indicated a 0.19 blood alcohol content — more than twice the legal limit in Virginia.

The police chief is on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure in Alexandria, until the conclusion of an internal investigation expected to take at least one week.

Chief Baker is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday for his arraignment.

Alexandria defense attorney Jim C. Clark said he was hired Monday by Chief Baker but is not yet familiar with all the facts of the case.

“All I can really tell you at this point is the obvious, and that is that David is very concerned about his conduct,” Mr. Clark said. “He’s embarrassed by the allegations that are made against him, he considers it a genuine privilege to serve the citizens of Alexandria, and he wants to take every opportunity to convince the people who have put their trust in him that they can continue to rely on him as the face of law enforcement of Alexandria.”

Council members also stressed that the incident appears out of character for Chief Baker, who is known to uphold strict levels of professionalism on and off work.

“For the 15 years that I’ve known him and worked with him, I’ve never seen him have a beer or wine or anything,” said Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille.

Still, Mr. Euille said, Chief Baker is subject to higher standards because of his position.

“Folks look at you in a different light,” he said.

Alexandria City Manager James K. Hartmann is expected to decide Chief Baker’s job status.

The police chief is not the first Alexandria official to be arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. Rebecca L. Perry, then-superintendent of schools, was arrested on drunken-driving charges in 2004 and was allowed to return to her position.

It remains to be seen what Chief Baker was doing before his arrest, and Arlington police have not released the arrest report. Chief Baker, a resident of Gaithersburg, had been on a weeklong vacation, according to Alexandria city spokesman Tony Castrilli.

At the time of the incident, Deputy Chief Earl Cook, who has assumed Chief Baker’s duties, was already acting chief. Per department policy, Chief Baker had turned in his city-issued firearm before leaving for his vacation. He was the only person in his vehicle, according to Mr. Castrilli.

Although Mr. Euille said he spoke Sunday to Chief Baker, he said he did not ask him about the circumstances of the arrest.

Mr. Clark said Chief Baker likely faces a guilty or not-guilty verdict. He said it would be highly unlikely for a Virginia judge to issue a suspended imposition of sentence - in which a judge can dismiss charges after the completion of a specified probationary period - in a DUI case.

Above a 0.15 blood alcohol content, a guilty verdict would require the police chief to serve five days in jail, pay a $250 fine and lose his license for a year.

Jon Katz, a criminal defense attorney who has been defending clients accused of drunken driving in Virginia since 1998, said the chief defense in this type of case would be to take issue with the blood alcohol content reading.

However, attacking the integrity of breathalyzers may be off limits for the chief of police.

Chief Baker coordinated a sobriety checkpoint for Alexandria in June and alerted drivers in a press conference about the stiff penalties for drunken-driving convictions.

“From a public relations perspective,” Mr. Katz said, “he may be damned if he does, damned it he doesn’t.”

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