Guns, accountability and immigration hot topics at Wake sheriff candidate forum

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- At Tobacco Road sports bar off Glenwood South in Raleigh on Wednesday, nine of the candidates competing to be the next Wake County sheriff met for a forum that touched on topics such as police accountability, gun permits and the sharing of insights on the evolution of policing since the George Floyd and Andrew Brown incidents.

The candidates were asked whether it is time to rethink qualified immunity for officers -- which shields officers from personal liability for violating constitutional rights

"I think it should be part of the discussion. But keep in mind that the officer needs to be protected if they're doing their job correctly," said sheriff candidate Tivon Howard.

The candidate forum sponsored by the Wake County Libertarian Party was missing one big name. Three years after unseating former Sheriff Donnie Harrison, current Sheriff Gerald Baker was not there. He sent a representative to listen instead.

Randolph Baity, a former Wake deputy fired after Baker took office in 2018 was on stage Wednesday, vying to take Baker's job.

Baity was asked if he supported Baker's decision to cancel the county's cooperation with federal immigration agents to detain undocumented immigrants.

"Absolutely not. I do not support that decision," Baity said. "I think it's the wrong decision. I think we should be working with federal agents."

Guns were also a hot topic at the forum. In August, a Republican-backed bill repealing the state's pistol permit system, overseen by county sheriffs, passed both chambers of the legislature. Gov. Roy Cooper, who supports enhanced gun-control measures, vetoed the bill.

"I don't like too much government. I should have the right to protect myself and family and walk into a gun store and purchase a gun," said sheriff candidate Stephanie Hopkins. "I shouldn't need your permission. I don't need you to sign something for me."

Harrison, who is running for his old job, chimed in with a measured response.

"Being in law enforcement as I have and knowing what I know, I have to read that bill before I say yes," the former sheriff said. "But I am a Second Amendment guy. I grew up poor. I know what it's like to hunt for food. So I'm all for people having guns."

ABC11 did speak with a spokesperson for Sheriff Baker, who reiterated what Baker said last month: He is running for re-election.

Candidate filing officially begins Dec. 6.
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