Austin firefighters accuse department of not properly investigating sexual assault complaints

A grand jury has indicted retired Austin firefighter Jim Baker for invasive visual recording.

Police said he admitted to placing a spy camera in a locker room to record a female firefighter.

Monday, several female firefighters expressed anger and outrage over what they call the department's lack of investigating prior claims against the lieutenant that they feel may have prevented this latest incident.

The women of the Austin Fire Department lined the union office to voice concerns over claims of sexual harassment against retired Lieutenant Jim Baker. 

"We are a public safety entity and to not prioritize the safety of the public is shameful,” said Vanessa Schaefer.

In November, Baker turned himself in for the charge of invasive visual recording. Police said he admitted to placing a spy camera in the women’s locker room at his downtown station. A female found the camera upon exiting a shower.

"I was outraged. The very idea of something like this goes against everything that we stand for as firefighters,” said Captain Christine Jones.

The focus of Monday's press conference was to address claims made against Baker four years ago.

Copies of complaints were provided to the media detailing an incident that occurred in Mar. of 2013. Authors of the letters allege Baker evaluated a patient by putting his hands under her shirt. 

One firefighter said he witnessed Baker do the same evaluation on a woman at a separate incident.

According to a statement from the department, the case was then classified as a medical care performance issue, sent to the office of the medical director for review and quashed as Baker was found not to have violated any patient standard of care. He was returned to duty.

"How did our department not recognize that those allegations could have been describing sexual assault,” asked fire specialist Erin Dempsey.

The women feel a major breakdown occurred in the investigative process.

"We believe if the department properly referred the matter to the Professional Standards Office, he would've been investigated and he would've been fired and the alleged filming would never have had a chance to happen,” said Schaefer.

"The department completely failed to do a proper investigation,” said Captain Christine Jones.

Austin Firefighters Association President Bob Nicks is demanding the department hold someone accountable for what happened.

"We can do better and we will do better,” said Nicks.

On his end, Nicks has created a human resources committee. He will also send out surveys to female employees.

Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr responded saying in recent years the department has strengthened the harassment policy.

“If ever there was a time to have those courageous conversations about this topic, that time is now. Those who have the fortitude to bring complaints forward must feel validated and taken seriously. Those who are accused deserve a fair, thorough investigation into the allegations. I look forward to hearing what additional specific actions the Association would recommend the department take on this issue."

Baker's attorney said what the union is doing is in bad taste. He said his client went through the correct protocols for the 2013 incident and was cleared.

"It's a dead issue. They're looking back and taking things that should not have been brought up again because there's nothing untoward about what happened,” said attorney Larry Sauer.

Bob Nicks said the union will be making decisions on possible legal action Tuesday. One thing they may do is file an EEOC complaint.