Cynthia Van Patten said her life changed forever two days before Christmas in 2014, when she looked at her phone and saw that her hidden camera had finally caught the burglar who had repeatedly stolen from her beauty salon.
Van Patten owned Reality Salon and Spa, and had suffered numerous burglaries in defiance of her alarm system. At one point she was advised that it must be an employee, because the burglar never set off the alarm — she actually accused a former employee at one point, she said.
But when she checked the image that December night, she saw then-Edwardsville Police Officer Brian Barker, armed and in uniform, cleaning out her cash register.
“I did not know what to do or who to call, because he was the police, and that’s who you call when you have a problem.” Van Patten said.
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Barker, 43, was arrested and eventually charged with a long string of burglaries going back 15 years. He burglarized homes and businesses, some of them strangers, some of them his neighbors. On Monday, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison on six felonies, including burglary, residential burglary, possession of stolen firearms, and official misconduct.
Van Patten had set up the hidden camera with the phone app on the advice, ironically, of another police officer. When she saw the phone had alerted her, Van Patten said she was initially elated, that the salon’s burglaries would be resolved. Then she saw the video.
Barker had often been the responding officer to her previous burglary reports. At one point, she said, he had summoned her to her store because a door was supposedly left open. During that visit, she said, he asked her to show him where she had moved the cash register.
Van Patten said her salon suffered greatly from the attention and legal issues stemming from the burglary and Barker’s actions. Eventually, she said, she sold the building at a $50,000 loss to move her business to Glen Carbon with a new business name, “so I could feel safe, like I had police protection.”
Crimes and punishment
Evidence found in Barker’s home and other locations linked him to a number of other burglaries, as well as the burglary-arson of then-State Rep. Dwight Kay’s offices in Edwardsville. Among the businesses named in the indictments were Afsaneh’s Alterations, Edible Arrangements, Edison’s Entertainment, Headstrong Hair, the Little Gym, Pedegos and Extreme Vapor, as well as Newsong Fellowship Church, from which he stole cash and two guitars.
Barker pleaded guilty in January. The other charges were dropped in return for cooperation with restitution to the victims. The plea deal capped his potential sentence at 40 years, and prosecutor Jennifer Mudge requested the full sentence in Monday’s hearing.
Mudge said while Barker was described by character witnesses as “broken and shattered,” there was nothing more broken and shattered than local law enforcement in this case.
“There have been rotten apples chipping away at the good work they do for decades,” she said. “Mr. Barker has been one of them for decades.”
Mudge said she believes the public needs to see that police officers are held to the rule of law. “When someone we trust and rely on to protect us when we call 911 betrays us, they need to know that the courts are not going to tolerate it,” she said.
Defense attorney William Lucco said that there seems to be a rising opinion that a police officer who breaks the law should be treated more harshly than an ordinary citizen. “I don’t think that’s what the code requires,” he said. “Police officers come from the same fabric of society as the rest of us…. they make mistakes. But we are loath to allow them that.”
Madison County Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli sentenced Barker to a total of 40 years, of which Barker will have to serve at least 50 percent. “You were a police officer, you wore the uniform,” Tognarelli told Barker. “If you can’t call the police, who can you call?”
As soon as Edwardsville police officers recognized one of their own on the salon’s tape, Chief Jay Keeven turned the case over to the Madison County Sheriff’s Department. Lt. Kris Tharp was the lead investigator, and conducted Barker’s initial four-hour interview, during which Barker eventually confessed to the Reality Salon burglary after he was informed of the video surveillance.
While Tharp was interviewing him, deputies were searching Barker’s home, his previous residence with his ex-wife, and Knight’s home, to which he was in the process of moving.
Even as charges were being filed in the first few burglaries, Tharp said, they realized the amount of stolen goods being recovered showed it was “much bigger” than just one or two burglaries. He described the amount of stolen property as overwhelming.
“It was like going into a Walmart and someone telling me some of it was stolen,” Tharp said. “There’s such an abundant amount, where do you begin?”
Police eventually were taking “truckloads” of items from the various residences: auto parts, tubs, tools, boxes, a safe full of stolen firearms, rows and rows of boxed mufflers, rare coins, gold bars and much more. Later investigations also tied him to burglaries at Newsong Fellowship Church, from which he stole cash and two guitars.
There were so many items that the sheriff’s department had to rent a 10-foot-by-10-foot storage unit to contain the evidence while they sorted through it. Tharp said there were “thousands upon thousands” of items seized.
“It was an enormous amount of evidence that we had to sift through and get to proper owners,” Tharp said. While exact numbers were not available, Tharp said he estimates “a large majority” of the items have been relinquished back to their owners, and the courts will determine what to do with the rest.
Tharp said it was an “incredible and daunting task” that monopolized the investigative division for a substantial amount of time. “I’m very proud for the way people have handled this job,” he said.
Why did he do it?
According to his own brief statement at his sentencing and the testimony of other witnesses, Barker said he did not know why he felt driven to steal and stockpile stolen goods in his home.
“I’ve hurt a lot of people, disrespected a lot of people who had trust in me,” Barker said. “I hope one day they can find it in their hearts to forgive me.”
Dr. Daniel Cuneo, a clinical psychologist, conducted 30 to 40 sessions with Barker since his arrest; at first to evaluate for Barker’s mental state at the request of his defense attorney, and later continued therapy with him for free. Cuneo was concerned, he said, even though Barker said he was not suicidal, because the suicide risk for a police officer facing prison was extremely high.
He said Barker had a traumatic childhood and was sexualized at an early age by his older sister, Deanna Howland. Howland was a troubled young woman who drifted into prostitution and drug use, according to police reports. She vanished in 2004, and only recently was identified as the unnamed victim of the “torso killing” — her body was found without head, arms or legs at a rest stop in Missouri.
Cuneo said Barker suffers from depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, kleptomania and alcoholism. He pointed out that Barker had many items stolen as much as five years ago that were never opened or sold, but neatly categorized and stacked; several witnesses remarked that many of the items Barker stole were simply warehoused in an orderly fashion.
But Cuneo said Barker made progress with regular therapy, abstinence from alcohol — which he called a “trigger” for Barker’s illicit acts — and with positive interactions with his church in Alton.
“He has gained insight into his behavior and appeared to change,” Cuneo said, and recommended that Barker be sent to a facility where he can continue to receive therapy and medication. “At the current time he is motivated, and he has done well in the past 10 months with me.”
Cuneo said he has spent 40 years doing evaluations in prisons and secure hospitals. “I tend to be cynical or skeptical when someone finds God in prison,” he said. “They tend to lose God when they get out. In this particular case, though, he truly seems to have filled a void with (faith).”
However, Cuneo said Barker was sane when he committed his crimes and knew the difference between right and wrong.
Pastor Mark Church of River of Life Church testified on Barker’s behalf. “He seems truly repentant for the things that he’s done,” Church said. “I think any of us can make mistakes. But I have also seen life change … I feel very confident that Brian has made sincere changes in his life.”
But Barker’s newfound faith did not necessarily convince Judge Tognarelli. “It does appear that you have made peace with God,” Tognarelli said. “I wish I had a bit of his wisdom. But now you have to make your peace with the people of the state of Illinois.”
Before joining his lawyer before the court, Barker squeezed the hand of his wife, Keri Knight Barker, who was a dispatcher in the police department and dating Barker when he was arrested. Knight Barker was found guilty of two felony counts of obstruction of justice for taking a plastic tub full of cash and gold bars to a friend’s house when police came to search her house. However, after Barker posted bail, she took the tub to the police department and cooperated with the investigation.
The two have since married and had a child. In her trial, Knight Barker described him as a man “with demons” who led a simple life despite the spoils of dozens of burglaries hidden in the basement. She said he told her he was buying and selling items on Craigslist, and did not use cash for large expenditures.
Knight Barker was fired by the Edwardsville Police Department prior to her conviction. She was sentenced to two years’ probation in October 2015. Barker resigned in the early days of the investigation. He had been an 18-year veteran police officer who had worked with the Metropolitan Enforcement Group of Southwestern Illinois.
After the verdict was read, Knight Barker was sobbing in the courtroom, surrounded by family and friends as Barker’s lawyer spoke to her. Barker was handcuffed by sheriff’s deputies and taken out of the courtroom into custody.
Effect on law enforcement
Since Barker’s arrest, Edwardsville police officers have felt the stigma of his actions, according to several officers. Edwardsville Det. Sgt. Mike Lybarger testified that one officer received an “unwelcoming gesture” when returning some of Barker’s items, and other officers feel that some residents no longer trust them since news of Barker’s actions became known.
“At first, there was disbelief, that Brian couldn’t be responsible,” Lybarger said. “As more evidence became known, it gave way to anger and betrayal. They felt crushed that someone they knew and worked with could do this.”
At one point, an unnamed officer visited Van Patten in her salon. She said he broke down crying, telling her how upset he was about Barker’s actions, describing him as a friend. Van Patten said instead of feeling comforted, she felt intimidated. She reported the incident, and Tom Gibbons filed a restraining order to ensure Barker did not contact her.
Keeven said he was aware of the incident and the officer involved received counseling. He said the entire case has been difficult for the entire department. While Keeven did not testify at the sentencing, he submitted a letter to the judge in which he requested that Barker receive the maximum sentence.
“It’s a stain on our department,” he said. “We have 60 people working for decades to build a great reputation, and one person has damaged that.”
Gibbons said they are still working out the issue of restitution. Barker’s pension fund totaled approximately $90,000, which is being allocated among his victims. “A ton of the items have been returned,” Gibbons said. “The sheriff’s office has identified a lot of stuff and returned it to people — things sometimes people didn’t know he stole from them.”
It will take much longer, Gibbons said, to restore faith and trust.
“Barker’s crime spree shook the foundation of faith we have in those who are sworn to protect our community,” Gibbons said. “With this 40-year sentence today, we can begin the process of restoring trust and confidence in the men and women in our local law enforcement agencies who give everything they have, day and night, in service to our safety.”
Judge Tognarelli directly addressed Van Patten after passing sentence, telling her that the police “feel as let down as you do,” and he hopes the sentence will help her heal.
But Van Patten said now that it’s all done, she feels conflicted about the verdict. “Obviously from the standpoint of the victim, I feel justice has been served,” she said. “As a human being, no one likes to see this kind of thing. It’s really sad, for the good police and his children.”