For the second time in a row, an employee of the Wake County Sheriff’s Office will run for his boss’ job.
Current sheriff Gerald Baker worked in the sheriff’s department for 28 years before upsetting Donnie Harrison in 2018.
During the 2018 election, Baker campaigned extensively to oppose Wake County’s participation in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Program which requires counties to transfer people who have been arrested and found illegally in the United States to federal detention.
Baker said the deportation was “a federal matter and let them handle it.”
While Harrison defended the program as a way to ensure public safety, Baker said some people have been arrested for minor offenses and the program is tearing their families apart.
Another issue highlighted during the 2018 election was a confrontation between law enforcement and a Raleigh man where a deputy unleashed a dog on the man.
Kyron Dwain Hinton said he suffered a fractured eye socket, broken nose, multiple cuts to his head, “probably 20 bite marks” and memory loss during the incident when several officers l ‘threw him to the ground and punched him as K-9 Sheriff’s Office bit him on the right arm, side and head. Those officers were charged, and Hinton was awarded $80,000 in 2019 to settle a lawsuit in which he claimed a Wake County deputy used excessive force during that arrest.
However, since taking office, Baker has received criticism over low morale and staffing shortages in the department. Some also said they were fired or demoted because of their support for Harrison.
In April this year, the Sheriff’s Department announced it had settled a lawsuit with Richard Johnson, the former WCSO chief operating officer under Harrison.
Johnson filed the lawsuit in 2020, alleging he was “retaliated for by not asking him to return to serve under the new administration.”
Another deputy, Cedric Herring, who resigned and announced he would run for sheriff, said his son was fired and the son’s fiancée was furloughed without explanation. Although the Herrings have not publicly speculated whether Baker’s actions were in any way retaliatory, other fired deputies told WRAL Investigates that was the case when they spoke out in early 2019.
In January of this year, a longtime member of the department and supporter of Baker’s campaign also shared similar concerns which he said led to his resignation.
“I do not believe [Baker] was transparent. In fact, I’ve been to meetings where he tried to find ways to escape transparency,” said Jared Ollison, who worked at the department for years, took a 13-year hiatus but returned. after Baker’s election.
Ollison said he felt uncomfortable with Baker’s instruction to mount detention staff until he broke them. But Baker said he didn’t make that suggestion.
“Part of those instructions was to go down and keep an eye on things, let me know what’s going on and we’ll deal with things the way we have to,” Baker told WRAL Investigates in January.
Another issue raised by both Republican and Democratic primary candidates was the department’s understaffing.
In December 2021, Baker said the department was hiring “aggressively and actively” and that staffing shortages were an issue facing law enforcement across the country.
“The morale in this office is better than it has been in years,” he said. “Those who feel differently will be those who are unhappy for reasons they know.”
Baker said he had worked to bring accountability, transparency and integrity to the department and that changes to the management structure had been successful.
“I’m not just going to walk away from all of this work that we’ve been doing serving this county for four years,” Baker said.
In Tuesday’s primary, Baker faced six other candidates, including Willie Rowe, a retired sheriff’s department major. As of Tuesday night, Rowe had 29% of the Democratic votes cast with 100% of the constituency reports. Baker was in second place with 24% of the vote.
On the Republican side, Harrison easily secured the nomination with 80% of the vote.
To become the candidate of a party, a candidate must obtain 30% of the votes cast plus one. There are still outstanding ballots that could change the final numbers, but probably not enough to jeopardize the outcome of the election.
“You have to look at the actual number of ballots that have been cast,” said Gary Sims of the Wake County Board of Elections.
“That doesn’t mean that every properly cast ballot will go to a particular candidate.”
Baker told WRAL News he would seek a runoff if Rowe did not meet the 30% plus one vote threshold.
“I’m a strong leader. I’ve shown that for years. This was what the office needed in 2018 – someone who was going to come in and be strong enough to take all the licks that came with reorganization and the restriction of this office to serving this county. I’m him,” Baker said.
Rowe, who is a 28-year veteran of the department, said hiring issues must be resolved in order to protect the county.
“My focus right now is for us to come in and bring unity, improve morale, improve working conditions and just work together and make Wake County safer,” Rowe said.
“I think our message was that we want to bring proven leadership, proven experience and proven relationships,” he said. “This is the key to making Wake County safer.”
Part of Rowe’s plan to address staffing issues includes raising wages, improving working conditions, providing part-time positions for retirees and expanding the reserve officer program.
“We need a sheriff who cares, who understands and who can identify and relate to the people we serve and protect,” Rowe said.
Rowe said he also plans to build community trust with daily interactions with residents through “mentoring, sports and recreational activities with youth.”
Harrison, who will face whoever wins the Democratic primary, also outlined his plan to tackle staffing shortages.
“That’s one of the main things we’re going to have to do is get more people because right now they’re really running after a lot of agencies – I’m not just talking about the sheriff’s office But we have to hire,” Harrison said.
Harrison said part of his plan includes discussions with county commissioners about ways to improve.
“We have to hire good people and we have to train those people and we have to retain those people,” he said.