RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Two former deputies with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Sheriff Gerald Baker. In it, the former deputies alleged that Baker fired them in retaliation for reporting another deputy — and close personal friend of Baker’s — for homophobic and racially inappropriate comments made during a training event.
According to the lawsuit, Steven Williamson and Alvis Speight, who were both deputies with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office, were taking part in an in-service training session in May 2017. The session was held by Teddy Patrick, who was a deputy with the sheriff’s office.
The lawsuit alleged that Patrick made “several homophobic and discriminatory statements about homosexual persons.” Among them were that he “didn’t believe in being gay” and identifying one of the deputies present as being gay.
It also said Patrick, who is Black, made several comments that were racially inappropriate. According to the lawsuit, he said, in effect, “if white people keep killing themselves, we black people will be the majority, instead of the minority.”
Speight and Williamson ended up voluntarily reporting Patrick’s conduct during the training to supervisors. Then-Sheriff Donnie Harrison pulled Williamson aside to discuss Patrick’s behavior. Harrison told Williamson there would be an internal investigation, the court document said.
Patrick was demoted in August 2017 after the investigation. He subsequently filed a complaint to challenge the demotion, but it was dismissed, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit outlined a relationship between Patrick and Baker. It said the two traveled together, including trips with other deputies to the Dominican Republic.
“Upon information and belief, Patrick and Baker discussed Baker’s campaign against Sheriff Harrison, and Patrick’s demotion by Sheriff Harrison and Plaintiff, during these trips,” the lawsuit read.
After Baker won the November 2018 election for sheriff, he named Patrick to a five-person transition team. Baker then promoted Patrick to captain in December 2018, then again to major, effectively making him second-in-command at the sheriff’s office, the lawsuit alleged.
Richard Johnson, who informed Patrick of his demotion, was one of two deputies not sworn in by Baker, effectively terminating him. Baker, after taking office on Dec. 3, 2018, terminated Speight and Williamson on Dec. 21, 2018, the lawsuit said.
Speight and Williamson were provided no reason other than that their “services were no longer needed,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit seeks damages including back pay and front pay with interest, as well as compensation for emotional pain and suffering and damage to career and reputation, among other items.
When contacted for a comment, sheriff’s office spokesperson Eric Curry said the department couldn’t comment because it hadn’t received the lawsuit.
In January 2019, Baker defended what he called restructuring of the department. He directly commented on the dismissal of Speight and Williamson, saying “they were terminated because I didn’t have the confidence in them to follow and implement my policies moving forward.”
Baker later met with community activists who urged him to be transparent.