Former Long Beach police officer Cassie Barker was led out of a courtroom Monday to begin serving her prison sentence in the hot-car death of her 3-year-old daughter.
Judge Larry Bourgeois gave the 29-year-old expectant mother the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for manslaughter after Cheyenne Hyer died Sept. 30, 2016.
Barker said she had left Cheyenne in the back of her patrol car while she went into her supervisor’s home, had sex with him and fell asleep. The then-supervisor said he didn’t know the toddler was in the car.
When she entered her guilty plea last month, the judge said he didn’t know what punishment “could be worse than what you have already experienced.”
Indicted on a charge of second-degree murder, Barker pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter in a plea deal with the state. Prosecutors recommended she served the maximum 20-year sentence.
A plea for justice
Cheyenne’s father, Ryan Hyer, had asked for Barker to get the maximum sentence.
He said he continues to suffer emotionally, and said he still has haunting dreams of his daughter fighting for her life.
“Every time I see a patrol car, I see Cheyenne gasping for air,” he told the judge.
“I’ve blamed myself for everything ... life has been a complete hell. There’s no sentence big enough that will ever bring her back to us.”
Authorities went to Hyer’s Florida home to tell him his daughter had died.
“I thought it was mistake,” he said, and told the officers they were wrong because his daughter was living in another state with her mother, who was cop and would protect her.
He later learned it wasn’t the first time Barker had left Cheyenne in car alone. The first time, a passerby called Gulfport police when they saw Cheyenne in the back of a car parked outside a Gulfport strip mall.
Sex with a supervisor
During her plea hearing, Barker admitted she was having sex with her then-police supervisor Clark Ladner while Cheyenne was dying of heatstroke.
Barker had left the car windows up. The air-conditioner was on, but it was blowing hot air.
During her plea, Barker initially said she had stopped to talk, then fell asleep. When pressed by prosecutors and the judge, she admitted she had been having sex with Ladner before she fell asleep. She said she had just gotten off of a 12-hour shift.
By the time Barker got back to the car, Cheyenne was unresponsive.
She said she attempted CPR, but when paramedics got to the scene, they could not detect a pulse.
The heat index that day reached over 100 degrees. Cheyenne’s body temperature was 107 degrees when she was pronounced dead.
“I can appreciate you loved the child, but you left the child — your own flesh and blood — in a car while you went into the air-conditioned house while you had sexual relations,” the judge said Monday.
“When you have a child and you bring this child into the world, it also brings responsibility. I don’t know how to put it other than you have failed in the responsibility of this child.”
Barker’s attorney had told the judge that Barker herself had been the victim of neglect and abuse at the hands of her own mother, and that her father wanted nothing to do with her. He said after Barker’s mom died, she emancipated herself so that she could pursue her own studies to get a job and raise a family.
In the aftermath of Cheyenne’s death, then-Long Beach Police Chief Wayne McDowell fired Barker and Ladner.
Their colleagues at the time were frustrated and angry at the two former officers and saddened to learn the small child who had spent so much time around them at the police department had died such a tragic and senseless death.
Ryan Hyer has filed a lawsuit against the Long Beach Police Department and the Department of Human Services over the death of his daughter.
He alleges that DHS and Long Beach police were negligent when they failed to tell him the first time Barker left her daughter in a car alone. Barker was placed on administrative leave for a week because of that incident.