RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – One month into the new Wake County Sheriff’s term, dozens of deputies and other departmental employees are in new positions or out of work.
Wake County Fraternal Order of Police president Frank Sancineto said Sheriff Gerald Baker fired or demoted at least 40 of the employees inherited from Donnie Harrison, whom Baker defeated in the November 2018 general election.
“It’s a right to work state. He has the power to do what he did, but it’s not right,” Sancineto said. “We at the Fraternal Order of Police have to protect our guys, and at least for now they’re being wronged.”
Sancineto said several patrol deputies received reassignments to work at the jail. He said corrections work is not a law enforcement position, so some of these employees face losing their certification as officers.
There are also concerns of cuts in pay and rank.
The Wake County Sheriff’s Office did not reply to multiple requests for comment in response to the claims and complaints of the Fraternal Order of Police and the North Carolina Sheriff Police Alliance.
The Alliance’s Wake County Chapter President, David Blackwelder, said it is typical for incoming sheriffs to make staffing changes. Baker is just the third sheriff in Wake County in 40 years. Harrison served as sheriff from 2002-2018, following John Baker who first became sheriff in 1978.
Blackwelder said what stands out in this case is the high number of non-administrative level employees.
“It’s given if there’s ever a regime change, usually, the higher ups, they’re going to want to have their own admins, their own chiefs, the people that are running the show that could have a direct impact on what he’s trying to accomplish,” he said.
“Lower level people that seem to be getting targeted here, how exactly are they going to impact his administration? They just do what they’re told. They come in, do their job, and go home.”
Blackwelder said an antiquated an archaic law allows North Carolina sheriffs to hire and fire employees as they see fit.
“He could he come in there and say everybody’s out of here if he ultimately wanted to, but is that the right thing to do? You can’t put the community at risk if you’re so short-staffed,” he said. “Who’s going to be patrolling outside and making sure everybody’s safe? People are going to leave. They’re not going to put up with that.”
The Wake County Fraternal Order of Police said one officer voluntarily resigned Monday and that others are looking for new jobs. Advocates for the deputies said there is a fear about who will be the next to lose their positions.
“He should have taken more time to analyze the situation from what Donnie (Harrison) had,” Sancineto said.
Some of Baker’s campaign pledges as published on his campaign website included references to assessing the staff and making changes deemed necessary:
Your Wake County Sheriff’s Office is in immediate need of structure and restructuring. The structure will restore the loss of integrity and accountability this office currently compromises, and, is a direct result of the leadership currently present in your Sheriff’s Office.
Persons employed within your entire Sheriff’s Office, sworn and unsworn, must be held accountable for their actions and performance when those actions and performance are less than Standard Operating Procedure and expectation. Complaints must be impartially examined fully.
Disciplinary action(s) must be consistent regardless of race, nationality or gender, and will always be a direct result of the matter at hand.
What is clear is that we cannot allow politics and partiality to come before serving our communities and Wake County.
Advocates for the deputies expressed concern there are political reasons for some of the recent changes.
“He just feels like their services are no longer needed for one reason or another, whether it was political or he just doesn’t like them, I don’t know, but that’s something he’s going to have to respond to,” Blackwelder said.
CBS 17 will continue to seek answers from the Wake County Sheriff’s Office and update this story with additional information.