WRAL Investigates

LGBT groups troubled by Wake sheriff's firing of deputies who reported supervisor's homophobic comments

Posted January 16, 2019 5:20 p.m. EST
Updated January 16, 2019 8:08 p.m. EST

— Gay advocacy groups expressed concern Wednesday over Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker's recent actions regarding an administrator in the sheriff's office who made homophobic comments in "sensitivity training" sessions two years ago.

WRAL Investigates obtained internal sheriff's office investigative notes regarding the 2017 sessions led by then-Lt. Teddy Patrick. According to an investigation, Patrick signaled to deputies he didn't like gay people – he thought being gay was wrong – but said he could work with them.

Former Master Deputy Gray Speight and former Master Deputy Steven Williamson recalled recently Patrick saying that, if he went to a man's house and the man was wearing a dress, he wouldn't be going inside.

"It was very unprofessional being that he was a lieutenant and a teacher," Williamson said.

"He was making statements that were just inappropriate, Speight said.

Patrick even outed a fellow deputy in one class, they said.

"[He] stated that [the deputy] was a homosexual. I, myself, and many of my colleagues did not know that," Speight said.

After word spread of the sessions, then-Sheriff Donnie Harrison and other supervisors sought out deputies to recount what was said, including Williamson and Speight.

Notes show that, when Patrick was questioned by superiors, he admitted, "I said it, and I meant it."

Despite recommendations for termination, Harrison ordered Patrick demoted from lieutenant to senior investigator.

After Baker defeated Harrison in the November election, he promoted Patrick to captain, one of the highest-ranking officers in his administration.

He also fired Williamson and Speight, who are among dozens of deputies who have lost their jobs or been demoted following the change in command. Sheriffs have broad legal authority to hire and fire as they wish.

"Should the facts bear out, this is deeply troubling," said James Miller, executive director of the LGBT Center of Raleigh. "It sends a non-inclusive statement to staff internally. Moreover, the message that it sends to thousands of LGBTQ persons living in Wake County is that our lives and dignity don't matter."

Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality North Carolina, said inappropriate comments about sexuality are all too common.

"We must fight to pass comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in order to ensure that individuals from all walks of life are both safe and comfortable when they show up to work," Johnson said.

Baker has also promoted at least three gay employees in the sheriff's office during the transition, including the deputy who was outed during the training session.

"I welcome input from all stakeholders in Wake County. I have revisited personnel matters that were previously overlooked or dealt with inappropriately. After considering personnel privacy and preservation of human dignity, I choose not to explain each of my personnel decisions," the sheriff said in a statement.

"The voters elected me on a platform of change. I have the responsibility to have deputies that will follow and carry out those policies that will bring about those changes," the statement said. "My office will continue to maintain an inclusive work environment and an unbiased delivery of the services of this office to all Wake County residents.”