‘They were terminated because I didn’t have the confidence in them to follow and implement my policies moving forward…’
(Lionel Parrott, Liberty Headlines) Sheriff Gerald Baker of Wake County, N.C., is once again defending his department from criticism, little more than a month after he started his term.
Last month, Baker sparked anger when he released prisoners from the Wake County jail as part of his promise to end the 287(g) program, through which the department partnered with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enforce federal law.
One of the prisoners released appears to be a serial domestic abuser, his most recent arrest having been for punching and kicking his wife.
Now, WRAL reports that Baker is the subject of more negative attention following his firing of two master deputies who reported homophobic comments made by a superior.
The alleged comments were made during a 2017 training session, in which Lt. Teddy Patrick told deputies that he thought he could work with gay people, even though he didn’t like them. The lieutenant also suggested that he was wary of men who wore dresses.
Additionally, Patrick “outed” a fellow deputy during one of the trainings.
Gary Speight and Steven Williamson, both master deputies, reported the remarks. After an investigation, Patrick was demoted from lieutenant to sergeant. (Patrick later filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over his demotion, claiming it was racially motivated. But the EEOC rejected the complaint, noting that he had also made derogatory comments about Muslims.)
After Baker took office following his defeat of longtime incumbent Donnie Harrison for Sheriff, promoted Patrick to captain. That’s not all. Baker also fired Williamson and Speight, just two among dozens of deputies who got the same treatment. It’s led to speculation that revenge was the motive behind the firings.
Last Thursday, Baker staunchly denied that he had retaliated against anyone.
“I have not retaliated against anyone—no person—period … they were terminated because I didn’t have the confidence in them to follow and implement my policies moving forward,” he said in a news conference. He said the report about the possible retaliations was inaccurate but did not elaborate.
North Carolina law permits sheriffs a wide degree of latitude when it comes to hiring and firing deputies. Baker’s predecessor Harrison made similar personnel shifts when he was sheriff, Baker said.
And as for Lt. Patrick, who is now one of the most highly-ranked officers in the department, Baker insisted he isn’t a homophobe.
“He doesn’t have those views,” the new sheriff maintained. “What he said, he shouldn’t have said, but he did, and we’ve dealt with that. He didn’t mean anything by it. It was a training class. He made an example that he shouldn’t have made, and that was dealt with, and we are trying to move forward.”
While members of the LGBT community are apparently troubled by the sheriff’s actions, they are currently exhibiting a remarkable willingness to forgive. Baker is a Democrat and an African American.
Rev. Clayton Brooks, president of LGBTQ Democrats of Wake County, said he was encouraged following a meeting with the sheriff and some of his deputies last week. According to him, the sheriff promised to reach out to the gay community.
“[We expect] that there will be steps taken over the next few months to ensure that the community and all citizens in Wake County know that this sheriff’s department is committed to bettering itself,” said Brooks.
Just what that commitment entails—and whether it involves additional personnel changes—is unclear.