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Former Chesterfield police officer says he was wrongfully terminated after developing PTSD on job

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Posted at 6:53 PM, May 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-25 18:53:27-04

CHESTERFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WXYZ) — A former Chesterfield Township police officer says he was wrongfully terminated after developing post-traumatic stress disorder on the job.

On September 30th, 2022, former officer Joshua Baker responded to a call in neighboring New Baltimore after a 7-year-old girl and her grandmother were hit by a truck. The crash happened near Green and Washington. Although it was out of his jurisdiction, Baker was just minutes away from the crash and offered help, his family says.

Baker's parents say when their son arrived on scene, he saw the little girl lying under a truck, severely injured. Baker and an officer with the New Baltimore Police Department pulled the little girl out.

Baker told his parents after being on the scene for several minutes, he called paramedics to get an estimated time of arrival. When the EMS workers advised they were still about 10 minutes away, Baker says he and the New Baltimore officer decided to begin transporting the child to meet the EMS vehicle en route or to the hospital.

"They started on the way. Josh rode in the backseat of the patrol car. The New Baltimore officer drove and Josh held her for quite a period of time. She was going in and out of consciousness, blood all over," said Jeff Baker, the father of the now-terminated officer.

Later that night, the Bakers say their son received a voicemail from his police chief. 7 Action News obtained the recording. In it, the person on the other end of the call updates Officer Baker on the 7-year-old's condition. The caller also goes on to say "You 100% made the right call. I'm glad you went over there and threw her in and went."

Despite this voicemail, the Bakers say within days of the crash the department began investigating their son for violating policy by leaving the jurisdiction and transporting someone while responding to the crash.

"What he did, saving that little girl's life, as a parent or grandparent, you would be so grateful. You would be nominating him for a lifesaving award, not giving him disciplinary action," said the now-terminated officer's mother Michele Baker.

While the little girl survived, Baker’s family says he began showing signs of PTSD in the months that followed the crash. They say he complained of being unable to sleep. They say he was also angry at times and lost 60 lbs from not eating. They say he took a lot of sick days as a result.

"After a few months, we noticed that his mental health started to decline. He was acting differently. A bit more aggressive," said Baker's father.

Baker’s parents say their son finally reached out for help in March after family members repeatedly urged him to talk to someone. They say he tearfully called a supervisor to tell them about the mental health issues he was experiencing. He divulged to the higher-up that he was "broken" and hadn't slept in days, even after trying Melatonin and THC gummies.

Baker's dad, who also has 30 years of experience in law enforcement serving as police chief in Auburn Hills and Port Huron, says he also called the Chesterfield Township Police Chief to speak with him directly. He says he was hoping to give him a clearer picture of how his son was struggling.

"I talked to the chief and he assured me he would get him some help. The plan was he would show up the next morning for work and his colleagues and friends of his would talk to him, and he was already asking for help, but convince him to go get help," said Baker.

However, Baker says when Josh went in for work the next day, he was instead drug tested. They say the 28-year-old was also scheduled for a fitness for duty test for the following Monday where he was ultimately diagnosed with PTSD. Baker says his son was then scheduled for two additional follow-up appointments but he never saw the doctor again after the appointments were allegedly canceled by the police department.

"I worked the streets for a lot of years and when we came upon somebody who had broken the law but was asking for help, we got them the help and we dealt with the law violation down the road," said Baker. "This is one of their coworkers. We're supposed to be, in law enforcement, a family and take care of each other. Where was the help? That never happened. Instead, they opened another investigation for the THC."

Baker says the subsequent investigation lasted until April 25th when two supervisors delivered a letter to Baker's home notifying him he was being terminated for violating policy.

7 Action News obtained the letter which cites that Baker was terminated for testing positive for THC.

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The Baker family shared this letter of termination given to Joshua Baker on April 25, 2023.

"Not only did he not get the help but to know that these people that are your work family turned their back on you, they’re investigating you and you’re fired. It’s really hard to comprehend," said Michele Baker.

They say the quick firing was especially confusing because their son was not a problem officer. They say in the 7 years he spent with the department, he received numerous awards including Officer of the Year in 2018.

"This isn’t a kid with a substance abuse problem. He’s not a kid that has ever done something like that. He doesn’t even drink alcohol. He’s trying to sleep," said Jeff Baker.

Shortly after their son was terminated, the Bakers began speaking out at township meetings and spreading the story online. There has since been a petition and GoFundMe created to support Josh. The former officer has also garnered the support of Township Trustee David Joseph.

"We have an obligation to help him. We have an obligation to help the heroes and protectors who protect us," said Joseph.

The Bakers say after community pressure, the department offered Josh his job back on May 12 in what's called a "last chance" agreement. Jeff says the agreement included no mental health treatment and strict parameters for firing.

"(It said) if he’s unable to return, he goes back on to unpaid leave and if this were to go on for more than 6 months, he’s terminated again. That’s what the agreement says but they’re willing to look over the THC use. You gotta ask yourself, what is behind this? I don't have an answer," said Baker as he paraphrased the agreement.

The bakers say their son is taking full accountability for violating policy by ingesting marijuana. They say while they also don't believe he should be absolved from punishment, the way the department used it as grounds for termination without aiding his mental health first is disappointing.

Michele and Jeff say as mental health remains a critical concern for first responders, they felt compelled to speak out against what happened to their son.

According to a 2021 article from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, both firefighters and police officers are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. The article said it's estimated that 18-24% of dispatchers and 35% of police officers suffer from PTSD.

"I’m so proud of him. I’m just devastated that the leadership in Chesterfield would treat him like this. What they should have done is got him the help, get him back on the road," said Jeff. "All this family asked for was to send him to the doctor, let the doctor do his therapy. At the time the doctor says he’s good to return to work, return to work, deal with the THC, and move on."

7 Action News reached out to the Chesterfield Township Police Department for comment. The chief said in a phone call that because this is an ongoing personnel issue, he is unable to comment in any way.

The Bakers say they plan to continue showing up to township meetings to ensure their son's story is shared.