Ex-AFD lieutenant had history of complaints before recording allegation

James William Baker II (Austin Police Department Photo)
James William Baker II (Austin Police Department Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The former Austin Fire Department lieutenant accused of secretly recording video of women in a fire station locker room just two months ago has an apparent history of complaints he would inappropriately touch female patients on emergency scenes, dating back years.

New documents reveal an AFD captain emailed management about the reports after Baker was cleared and allowed to return to work — saying he felt obligated to report the extent of the complaints and concerns around Baker’s alleged inappropriate behavior.

James William Baker, 52, faces a charge of invasive visual recording.

Baker turned himself in at Travis County booking on Nov. 16, but posted bond immediately and was released.

Former AFD lieutenant James Baker, 52, is accused of filming a female firefighter in a station locker room (KXAN Photo/Sarah Rafique)
Former AFD lieutenant James Baker, 52, is accused of filming a female firefighter in a station locker room (KXAN Photo/Sarah Rafique)

The Austin Fire Department confirms it received prior reports about inappropriate behavior when Lt. Baker was handling medical calls in 2013.

According to Austin Firefighters Association President Bob Nicks, three firefighters filed complaints against Baker in March of that year for two separate incidents involving female patients.

“A proper investigation was never done,” said Nicks. “Instead of doing an investigation on misconduct like you’d expect in this sort of thing, it was given to the Office of Medical Director to look at from a medical standpoint. Of course Lt. Baker understands how to do an assessment correctly. He just was not doing one correctly on scene, according to his peers. So, all the witnesses weren’t brought in and interviewed, the letters of misconduct were not provided the OMD, and all the evidence was not looked at.”

AFD confirmed it was made aware of allegations against Baker’s medical care performance in 2013 and that “since the issue involved patient care,” the department passed on the case to the Office of the Medical Director for review. The department says OMD’s conclusion was that Baker had not violated any patient standard of care. So, AFD dropped the matter.

According to Nicks, on March 5, 2013, two firefighters say an incident occurred wherein Baker inappropriately touched a female patient. By March 17, Nicks says those firefighters turned in their complaint letters to AFD, along with another firefighter – a captain – who said they had witnessed similar behavior by Baker on a separate scene previous to the one that allegedly occurred on March 5 that year.

In response to those reports, on March 19, 2013, Nicks says Lt. Baker was taken off duty for as many as three or four shifts. By March 28, Baker was back at work. It was on the 28th that the captain sent his email to AFD management.

“Once he’s pulled off, the shifts started talking among themselves and started realizing the problem was bigger than anybody thought,” said Nicks. “The very fact that his peers are the people that dropped a dime on him is very telling. This is not acceptable within our culture.”

The captain’s email states it was no secret that firefighters, in general, were not comfortable working on Lt. Baker’s crew. The email also mentions one firefighter who transferred off Baker’s crew because of Baker’s alleged behavior. The captain wrote, “I have heard several times the comment, ‘If he did that to my wife there’d be trouble.'”

Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr (Austin Fire Department Photo)
Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr (Austin Fire Department Photo)

Nicks says AFD and Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr didn’t do enough to conduct a proper investigation.

“It’s her duty — when she hears a complaint that’s this big — to follow through and make sure it’s handled correctly,” continued Nicks.

The firefighters association says it would support a lawsuit Baker’s coworkers are currently considering filing against the city of Austin and Kerr.

“We will support them in legal action if they decide to go forward,” said Nicks.

The female firefighters who would have legal standing in a possible case are visiting with attorneys and are still weighing out their options, but have not yet decided what to do moving forward.

Nicks says how Baker’s case was handled highlights the need for a necessary culture change at the Austin Fire Department. His plan is to form an association human resources committee that will be staffed with trained firefighters.

“We are not waiting for management to do this. We’re determined that if management’s not going to change the culture, we will. If [the city of Austin] want to be a part of that change, then they’re going to need to be honest about what happened in 2013,” he said.

“By and large, firefighters are very respectful for each other at the fire stations, they’re very respectful to the citizens that they serve, and do a great job. But just because we do a great job doesn’t mean we can’t do a better job, and we see things like this, it looks like there’s other work that still needs to be done. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get it done.”

Court documents show a woman who worked at AFD Fire Station No. 1 downtown discovered a recording device in the locker room of the station on Sept. 4.

Baker had been employed with the city of Austin since 1986. The city says Baker recently retired, but an exact date wasn’t given.

KXAN has requested an interview with Fire Chief Kerr, but were told she is not doing any interviews because this is an “ongoing, open investigation.” Representatives of the fire department say Baker’s 2013 records are now part of APD’s current criminal investigation.

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