Sheriff’s Department Under Fire After Remarks Sympathetic to Gunman

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The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia is facing criticism from Asian American advocates and others over an official’s statements about the gunman who killed eight people at three spas on Tuesday.

Robert Long, 21, was taken into custody and has admitted to the shootings at one spa in Acworth, Cherokee County, and two in Atlanta. Six of the victims were Asian women.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker said, “I spoke with investigators. They interviewed him this morning. And they got that impression [that]he understood the gravity of it.”

Jay Baker

Long has been quoted as saying that the shooting spree was not racially motivated and that as a sex addict who has frequented massage establishments, he was trying to eliminate temptation. Authorities also said Long may have been planning additional shootings in Florida when he was apprehended.

“He was pretty much fed up and had been, kind of, at the end of his rope. And yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did,” Baker said.

Incredulous responses included this one from “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah: “You see the police officer come out and almost try to humanize the shooter more than the people who got shot … Yesterday was a bad day for him? No, yesterday was a bad day for the people who lost their lives.”

“It was a worse day for Delaina Ashely Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Yan, Daoyou Feng, Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, and too many others,” tweeted Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, naming the Cherokee County victims. The names of the Atlanta victims had not yet been made public.

In a statement on Thursday, Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds defended Baker, saying his comments were “taken or construed as insensitive or inappropriate” but that they “were not intended to disrespect any of the victims, the gravity of this tragedy, or express empathy or sympathy for the suspect.”

“Capt. Baker had a difficult task before him, and this was one of the hardest in his 28 years in law enforcement,” Reynolds said. “I have known and served with Capt. Baker for many years. His personal ties to the Asian community and his unwavering support and commitment to the citizens of Cherokee County are well known to many. On behalf of the dedicated women and men of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, we regret any heartache Captain Baker’s words may have caused.”

Anti-Asian T-shirts promoted by Jay Baker on Facebook last year.

A Facebook account that appeared to belong to Baker has prompted some calls for him to resign. It included an April 2020 post promoting T-shirts that read, “COVID-19 — Virus Imported from Chy-na” — an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s pronunciation of “China” when he blamed that country for the pandemic. The design is patterned after a Corona Beer label.

Numerous Asian American civil rights organizations, including Stop AAPI Hate, say that the Trump Administration’s use of such terms as “China virus,” “Wuhan virus” and “kung flu” contributed to anti-Asian sentiment that has resulted in thousands of hate crimes across the country over the past year.

Although the Facebook account was deleted, CNN was able to access photos through a cached copy and matched the name on the account with Baker, who is identified as an employee of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office. When contacted by CNN, Baker had no comment.

The office told CNN on Thursday that Baker is no longer the spokesperson for the investigation of the shootings.

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