Incoming Wake sheriff vows to end immigration program, promises more accountability by deputies
One day after he upset longtime Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison in Tuesday’s election, Gerald Baker promised to make changes in the sheriff’s office as soon as he takes charge.
Baker, a Democrat who has worked in the sheriff’s office for 28 years, defeated Harrison, a Republican who was seeking his fifth term in office, by a 55 to 45 percent margin, according to unofficial election results.
“One standard is going to apply for this office. That’s what we’re trying to do here, not one, two or three different standards according to who you are,” Baker said in an interview Wednesday.
Building more trust with the public and accountability among his deputies is a priority, he said.
Toward that end, he said he would end Wake County’s involvement with the federal 287(g) program “as soon as we walk in the door” next month. The county is one of only six in North Carolina that partners with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to transfer to federal custody people who have been arrested and are believed to be in the U.S. illegally.
Harrison said 287(g) provided a tool to keep the community safe, but Baker said there’s no evidence that it helps reduce crime. In fact, he said, it might promote crime because it makes people in the Latino community afraid to call the sheriff’s office for help.
“If they’ve got serious matters going on out there and they need our help and they won’t call, then we’re off purpose. We’re not doing what we need to do,” Baker said.
“Regardless of what color you are and where you’re from, if you break the law and we have to deal with you, we’re going to deal with you according to the law, not where you come from or whether you should be here,” he added. “If someone needs to be deported, that’s a federal matter, and let them deal with it.”
Baker said he plans to move more slowly with a deputy facing criminal charges stemming from an April incident.
Kyron Dwain Hinton said he suffered a broken eye socket, broken nose, multiple cuts on his head, “probably 20 bite marks” and memory loss when several officers knocked him to the ground and hit him while the sheriff’s office K-9 bit him on his right arm, side and head.
Deputy Cameron Broadwell and State Highway Patrol troopers Michael Blake and Tabithia Davis have been indicted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury and willfully failing to discharge duties. Broadwell also faces a charge of assault inflicting serious bodily injury.
Blake and Davis also have been fired, while Broadwell remains on administrative duty.
Community activists have called for Broadwell to be fired, but Harrison has said he wants to let the criminal case play out.
“I still believe, at this point, as a result of this incident and the totality of it, that he should have been terminated,” Baker said Wednesday before hedging on that stance.
“We’re going to look at it and see what’s happening,” he said. “If he’s found guilty, we’ll have to make a decision on that.”
Activists also want the sheriff’s office to eliminate its K-9 squad, but Baker said the dogs are too important in searching for lost people and with drug seizures for that.
A lack of transparency into how Broadwell’s discipline has been handled is likely the reason for calls for his termination, Baker said, so he promised more transparency and accountability.
“If we make a mistake out here in the actions that we take, then we should take responsibility for those things,” he said. “We all know the action that was taken by our officer should not have happened, so we’ve got to take responsibility for that. That’s just he bottom line.”
Harrison was still trying to process his election loss on Wednesday.
“You know, it’s just one of those things. It’s politics,” he said.
After a 51-year career in law enforcement, he said he will spend some time with his family, but he has no intention on slowing down or getting out of the business.
“It’s in my blood. It’s going to take me a while to realize the [patrol] car’s not in the yard and I can’t talk to the guys on the radio,” he said. “I’m very proud. I’m very humbled. God has been good to me, and I won’t frown, not one bit.”
Baker said that, behind the scenes, he wants to beef up staffing in some divisions, such as squads dealing with domestic violence cases or keeping tabs on sex offenders. More and better trained staff is needed at the county jail, he said, so that inmates are properly treated.
“Some people look at them as criminals, and that’s fine, but they’re still human,” he said.
He already has started assembling a team to manage the sheriff’s office, which has a $93 million budget and more than 1,000 employees, and he wants to create an environment where deputies, detention officers and civilian staff are eager to come to work each day and serve the public. He said he doesn’t foresee a major shakeup in the rank and file.
“I don’t think anyone who’s doing their job and doing it professionally and according to policies and procedures should have anything to worry about,” he said.