UC Santa Barbara drops online case vs. Kennewick man

KENNEWICK — A 52-year-old Kennewick man accused of threatening to harm faculty and students at a California university insists he never broke the law with his online rants -- he simply was venting -- but still believes they are trying to kill him.

Neil P. Baker was arrested last February by Kennewick police and charged in Benton County Superior Court with threats to bomb or injure property. The charge was dismissed last week, five days before his trial was to begin.

"Eleven months is a long time for them to dismiss charges that they knew they shouldn't have filed in the first place," Baker said. "You can tell they knew they shouldn't have filed them. They don't set bail at $15,000 ... if they thought (I was) going to go out and hurt somebody.

"This is just to shut me up. ... I think Benton County officials were manipulated by the University of California, Santa Barbara."

Baker, who has lived in the Tri-Cities since 2005, spent four years there as an engineer, then was forced to resign or be fired in 2004. He said school officials have been smearing him and sabotaging his ability to get another job, and he posted online rants and fictitious stories about mass suicides at the school.

Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor said he agreed to dismiss the charge without prejudice -- meaning charges can be refiled -- after the university's legal staff said administrators felt it was the best route.

Baker faced three to nine months in jail, and university officials said they thought "continued prosecution may ultimately cause the defendant to take more action against the university," court documents said.

"The university believes that it might be better to sort of step aside and see if he'll continue to live on the straight and narrow and not cause them any problems," Bloor said. "From our standpoint, we would renew the charges against him if he again starts a course of contacting the University of California, Santa Barbara, with harassing statements."

Bloor added that prosecutors felt they had a case worth pursuing, and the dismissal was not because of any flaws in the case.

"It was done because we believe, along with the university and the Kennewick Police Department, that perhaps the safest thing to do at this time is not to pursue charges," he said.

Kennewick police began investigating Baker after the UCSB police chief called them with concerns. They arrested him after his postings and alleged threats began escalating and he said he soon would be in Santa Barbara.

Baker said police know he never crossed the line and noted that in a Herald story that ran after his arrest, police said he knew the law and got close to violating it without going too far.

Baker said he also was surprised to learn that even though charges were dropped, he lost his right to possess firearms because he was committed to a mental health facility for a 14-day evaluation.

Baker said he was released after 12 days with a clean bill of heath.

Bloor said Baker can petition the court to have his rights reinstated, but Baker said he shouldn't have to do that.

* Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com