Former deputy sentenced to 6 years

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A former Socorro County Sheriff’s Department deputy was sentenced to six years in prison and recommended to undergo sex offender intervention and therapy while incarcerated and as conditions of parole for coercing female drivers into sexual favors during traffic stops last year.

Shawn Baca learned his fate last Friday during a sentencing hearing held before 7th Judicial District Court Judge Edmund “Ted” Kase. The sentence was all that prosecutors had asked for under a plea agreement was reached that reduced 10 charges originally filed against him down to three.

Baca pleaded guilty in February to two third-degree felony counts of extortion and one third-degree count of criminal sexual contact with a minor. The incidents took place in February and March of last year.

“I think justice was done,” said Torrance County Deputy District Attorney Tim Cornish, who took over prosecution due to potential conflicts of interest, after the hearing. “It was a betrayal of the public trust. This will help in restoring some of that trust and restoring the victim’s sense of worth, which is paramount.”

Baca’s attorney, Lee Deschamps, said his heart went out to all whose lives were impacted by his client’s actions.

“It’s a really sad case,” he said. “Because of stupid immaturity, the lives of a half dozen families, including the defendant’s, were turned upside down.”

According to the criminal complaint filed against him when he was arrested last March, Baca pulled over the minor on Interstate 25 and told her she was being stopped for speeding. He then made her exit the vehicle she was driving and touched her underwear after he made her pull down her pants and bend over.

Another victim was stopped for speeding and told by Baca he could “work something out” if she would “pull down her pants and show him her buttock.”

Under similar circumstances, a third victim was made to pull up her shirt and bra, while Baca took a picture with his cellphone.

Asking for the Max

Prior to the sentencing, Cornish read letters from some of the victims and their families, each imploring the judge to impose the maximum sentence.

Kase said he also received letters of support for Baca from a counseling service and Baca’s family. The judge then allowed victims and their families to address the court.

The first to speak was one of the victims. The college-age woman said Baca took away part of her innocence and she was tormented by the fact that Baca took pictures of her breasts and she has no idea if they might have been distributed after that.

She said she never felt so scared in her life during her encounter with Baca and was left with a feeling of helplessness. She felt she couldn’t call the police because Baca was the police.

The young woman said she lost any sense of security or safety police could provide.

“I now see law enforcement as having the ability to commit a crime and get away with it,” she said.

The woman’s mother said her daughter was smart and responsible and had done nothing to warrant being put in that situation. She said the incident “changed” her daughter and changed the family’s outlook toward law enforcement.

“He used his badge and position to intimidate my daughter and took pictures,” she said, adding that the family had always respected police officers. “None of us will ever look at law enforcement the same again.”

The woman’s father first read a letter from his oldest son, now serving in the Navy, who wrote that his confidence in law enforcement had been shaken.

The father was also critical of the Socorro County Sheriff’s Department. He said he was “astonished” when he saw a sheriff’s department official on a television news station defending Baca and dismissing the victims’ allegations.

“I can’t help but now see them as criminals with guns and badges,” he said.

The parents of the minor also said they had lost respect for law enforcement.

The father related that the family had been the victim of a home invasion during which his son had been held at gunpoint. He said they were told then that if they ever needed help to call them, but those words held little credence now.

The man said he didn’t wish ill will on anyone, but he felt Baca deserved the maximum sentence for holding his daughter captive for 1 1/2 hours and putting her through a humiliating ordeal.

The girl’s mother fought back tears as she addressed the court.

“How do you tell a child to always call the cops; they are there for you,” she said, adding her daughter is now afraid of law enforcement officers. “What he took from my daughter she can’t get back. She’ll be in her own prison the rest of her life. To me, there’s no difference between criminals with guns and that gentleman sitting at that table.”

Cornish said the other victim decided not to attend the hearing, because she couldn’t bring herself to face Baca again.

Baca was then allowed to address the victims and their families.

“To all the families and victims, please accept my apology,” he said, fighting back tears of his own.

Baca said he comes from a good family and is a loving father, and he was sorry for what he had done.

Considering the Case

Judge Kase allowed attorneys to make arguments, starting with the prosecution.

Cornish said incarceration would serve as a deterrent, not only for Baca but other people in positions of authority.

Cornish said law enforcement officials are hired to serve the public’s trust.

“And within that trust resides credibility,” he said. “Everything this man did betrayed those principles and betrayed society.”

Cornish said Baca appeared unrepentant and victims deserved some sense of retribution for what they had gone through. Incarceration, he said, would help the victims heal.

Baca shook his head at some of the things Cornish said, and held his head down when his attorney spoke on his behalf.

“What we have is a 13-year-old’s mentality in a 30-some year old man’s body,” Deschamps said while making a case for probation.

The attorney said Baca is already facing a harsh penalty without incarceration.

“This man will wear a scarlet letter for the rest of his life. Wherever he goes, he’ll have a red letter on his forehead as a sexual predator and child molester,” Deschamps said.

Kase said he had reviewed a sex offender evaluation report from the psychologist who had met with Baca. The judge said the report made a convincing argument that Baca could benefit from counseling and be placed on probation in lieu of incarceration.

Kase asked Adult Probation and Parole Officer Cindy Chavez for her opinion.

“He (Baca) did what he did. The damage is done,” she said. “He needs to be incarcerated. I can’t see probation.”

Deschamps suggested Baca undergo a 60-day diagnostic evaluation before he was sentenced.

“I see no harm in getting a 60-day evaluation. It won’t negatively impact the state’s case or the victims,” he said.

Cornish said little could be gained from the evaluation that wasn’t already known.

“Let’s impose a sentence today and have it done with,” he said.

Kase decided to do just that.

“The doctor’s report is thorough and well founded and presents a strong position for arguing for probation. I don’t see how in this case, with such a strong report, it could in any way furnish more information to the court,” he said.

Breaking an Oath

Kase also decided to go with the prosecutor’s recommendation of serving time in prison. Before delivering the sentence, Kase read the oath all law enforcement officials are sworn to when they take on the job.

“He violated that oath,” Kase said.

Due to the nature of the crime, Baca would only be able to earn four days per month of good time deductions, so was facing at least 85 percent of the time in jail the court imposed, minus the nine-and-a-half months he had already served on house arrest.

Before being escorted to jail, Baca was given a little time to meet with his family.

He first hugged his girlfriend and both wept during a long embrace. Other family members joined in until Baca was led out of the courtroom by his former colleagues.

Outside the courtroom, Baca’s attorney said the penalty wouldn’t have been as harsh if Baca wasn’t a sheriff’s deputy. He pointed out that Baca had no prior record.

“Were he not a law enforcement officer, I don’t think the state would have pursued this as vigorously,” Deschamps said. “They wanted to make an example out of him. Anyone else who was not in law enforcement probably would have received probation.”

The families of the victims were led out a back door. Outside the courthouse they seemed satisfied with the sentence.

“I think the courage the victims showed is incredible. You wonder how many others there might have been who weren’t able to come forward,” said the father of one victim. “Most disappointing to me is the action, or lack of action, from the sheriff’s department, which took no action after these crimes were reported.”

“Justice has been served. Unfortunately for the victims it has not been,” said the father of the minor. “As I said, I don’t have any ill will for anyone. It affects our family and his family. I feel bad for everybody.”

 


-- Email the author at tslast@dchieftain.com.