A persistent felony offender who had worked as a state court officer at the Lexington-Fayette Detention Center has been transferred to Frankfort after an investigation of allegations that he misused his authority over defendants.
Francis Baker was hired by the state court system in 2007, while still on parole for his multiple felony convictions.
On July 2, officials with the Administrative Office of the Courts completed an investigation of Baker, which produced inconclusive results, AOC spokeswoman Leigh Anne Hiatt said.
Still, officials are transferring Baker from his position as a pre-trial officer in Lexington to an administrative position in the agency's Frankfort office "out of an abundance of caution," Hiatt said. There, Baker will no longer have contact with people in custody.
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"He was transferred because of his inability to effectively perform his job duties as a pre-trial officer in Fayette County," Hiatt said.
As a pre-trial officer at the jail, Baker met with new inmates and reviewed their arrests and criminal histories before making bond recommendations to Fayette County judges. Baker also worked at the Fayette County courthouse, in a program that required electronically monitored defendants to have drug screenings as a condition of their release.
Baker has felony and misdemeanor convictions dating back to 1981, including burglary, forgery, possession of cocaine and facilitating the trafficking of controlled substances. The bulk of Baker's convictions occurred in the 1990s. Baker was arrested other times through 2005, but several charges were dismissed.
Baker was on parole when AOC hired him July 16, 2007, assigning him to work as a pre-trial officer at the Jefferson County Detention Center. He transferred to the Lexington jail on September 16, 2007.
His parole ended August 27, 2008, according to Lisa Lamb, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections.
Baker's criminal record is also central to a lawsuit filed in Fayette Circuit Court against the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. Corrections officer Doris Zirbes claims she was inappropriately stripped of her rank and placed on leave by jail director Ron Bishop when she told Lexington police and Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson about Baker's criminal history.
Zirbes claims in her January lawsuit that her meetings with police and Larson were protected by Kentucky's Whistleblower Act.
She alleged that Baker, as a felon, had improper access to law enforcement databases. Her lawsuit's complaint also alleges that Baker gave some female inmates preferential treatment.
Baker did not return a message left at the AOC office last week. He was out of the office on vacation this week. Jail officials have declined to discuss the lawsuit.
In the city's Feb. 19 answer to Zirbes' lawsuit, officials deny retaliating against Zirbes but acknowledge that she was warned not to speak to outside agencies about information she learned at the jail.
The city's response says it doesn't have the facts about Zirbes' allegations against Baker, noting that he is an employee of the state.
Hiatt says the AOC hires felons because it is committed to rehabilitation, and its personnel policies allow the court system to consider individual circumstances and address each hiring situation on its own merits.
"For that reason, the AOC occasionally employs individuals who have been convicted of misdemeanors and felonies," she said.
The agency doesn't track the number of felons it employs, she said.
Hiatt said that some limitations were put on Baker because he was a felon. Kentucky State Police officials denied Baker access to certain law enforcement databases such as the FBI's National Crime Information Center and the Law Enforcement Information Network of Kentucky databases. The information is used to research criminal records of inmates and make decisions about setting bonds.
However, Zirbes' lawsuit said that the KSP order was ignored and that Baker had improper access to the databases and to the jail computer.
The lawsuit said Baker called the jail on his days off to get information on female inmates. It also alleges that he improperly put inmates into a drug-testing program that allowed women to be released from jail without court approval.
The complaint said Baker would take female inmates to secluded locations in the jail for three hours at a time for private meetings "and that there were concerns among the jail staff that he was misusing his position of authority to improperly access female inmates."
In January, officials told the Herald-Leader that Baker was in good standing at the AOC.
But an investigation began in May after jail officials told the AOC about allegations made by an offender in the electronic monitoring program, according to an April 29 internal jail memo written by Detention Center Sgt. Shaun Hubbard.
The offender made several allegations, including that Baker had given some defendants in the electronic monitoring program preferential treatment.