|Mark D. Baggett|
By Mark Bowes
HOPEWELL - A disgraced Hopewell police officer who claimed he was the victim after authorities learned he used his authority to sexually assault three women was sentenced Wednesday to serve six years in prison.
Mark D. Baggett, 34, proclaimed his innocence and cited his 20 years of public service in seeking leniency on three convictions of aggravated sexual battery — to which he reluctantly pleaded guilty in June. But Circuit Judge Samuel E. Campbell found that Baggett had violated the public's trust and sentenced him to 30 years in prison with 24 years suspended.
- I've never understood why they sentence someone to XX years, then suspend XX years. What is the purpose of that? Either you are or aren't sentenced to XX years. So he was sentenced to 6 years, not 30.
State sentencing guidelines for Baggett, who had no criminal or traffic record, called for a minimum active sentence of three years and eight months and a maximum of 16 years and three months.
"He was a predator with a badge and a gun, and I'm glad we were able to get him off the streets and put him where he belongs," Hopewell Deputy Police Chief Robert Skowron said after the hearing. "He's just a disgrace to the uniform."
Skowron said the department has "zero tolerance" for such behavior, and he applauded the three victims for having "the courage and trust to come forward with this."
After investigators learned of the allegations and charged Baggett in January, the four-year Hopewell patrol officer claimed that he — not the women he abused — was the victim.
Chesterfield County Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney M. Duncan Minton Jr., who was appointed special prosecutor in the case, told the court that Baggett claimed one of his victims held a box cutter to his chest and performed oral sex on him. In another case, Minton said, Baggett claimed that another female victim came to his apartment, knocked on his door and seduced him.
According to evidence, Baggett used his position and authority as a police officer to elicit sex, or attempt to elicit sex, from three women in their 20s and 30s in September and October 2011. Baggett, working as a patrol officer, pulled over two of the women for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol and investigated a third woman for an alleged shoplifting offense.
The offenses occurred about the same time Baggett married his fiancée and became stepfather to her young daughter.
The crimes came to light after one of the women immediately filed a complaint, and Hopewell police conducted a preliminary investigation before turning the allegation over to Virginia State Police for further review. Hopewell police then conducted a check of all Baggett's arrests, "and we found two cases where we had concerns about how they appeared to be handled," Hopewell Police Chief John Keohane said in June. Baggett resigned soon after his arrest.
Baggett asserted his innocence Wednesday and said the only reason he entered Alford pleas to the crimes was that he believed he would have received a harsher punishment if found guilty by a jury. Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges there is sufficient evidence for a judge or jury to find him guilty.