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Wake Sheriff Baker fires back with motion to dismiss court petition seeking his removal

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RALEIGH — Attorneys for Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker filed a motion in court Wednesday to dismiss a petition seeking his removal from office.

The motion argues the petition from six Wake County residents does not have a proper legal basis and therefore cannot proceed in court.

The petition filed against Baker is “a media stunt to manufacture a campaign agenda against the current incumbent,” Baker’s attorneys say in the motion.

Moreover, they call the filing fraudulent and an “abuse of process.”

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Baker is serving his final months in office after losing a Democratic primary and is already scheduled to step down in December. The petition seeks to remove him before then.

The petitioners and their attorney maintain that N.C. General Statute 128-1, a statute that lets residents request a hearing to remove a sheriff or police officer, provides legal basis for their move.

In their filing, they accuse Baker of corruption and unethical behavior, including alleged retaliation against friends and colleagues of Deputy Ned Byrd, a K-9 officer who was killed on the job in August.

It was filed in court on Monday by Jeffrey Dobson, a Republican running against District Attorney Lorrin Freeman in November.

The involved petitioners are a group of individuals that include former law enforcement officers dissatisfied with Baker’s actions surrounding the death of Byrd.

Baker’s attorneys said that the statute cited by the petitioners also needs to be in accordance with N.C. General Statute 128-17. That says a county attorney or the district attorney must approve the petition for it to proceed.

In a sworn affidavit provided to The News & Observer with Baker’s motion, Freeman said she did not approve the petition when it was submitted to her.

The petition must be dismissed in court due to its non-compliance with that statute, although Dobson implied to the court that he has received approval for the petition, the deposition shows.

According to the petition, Baker has been sued 16 times since becoming sheriff, including by current and former sheriff’s office employees.

This includes two lawsuits filed in 2020 and 2022 by Wake County inmates who allege mistreatment in jail.

“Our goal is ultimately to let the justice system and the appropriate processes in place take hold and let it run its course as it’s supposed to,” Russell Copersito, 38, one of the petitioners and a former Raleigh police officer, told The N&O this week.

According to the petition, in accordance with the cited statute, Baker was to be found guilty of the following:

The sheriff’s response comes after Freeman told Copersito in an email last week, before the petition was filed, that she had “zero information” and no legal basis to legally remove Baker from office roughly 90 days before he leaves office in December.

Copersito turned to Dobson to investigate Baker for alleged wrongdoing, which led to the petition.

In an interview Wednesday, before Baker filed his dismissal, Dobson argued for the legitimacy of the petition and believed that it had proper legal standing, based on his understanding of the state laws.

“(Freeman) basically claimed it didn’t have merit,” Dobson said.

The petition cites several allegations of Baker’s conduct based on evidence that Dobson said Freeman “refused” to investigate.

“I don’t know the last time it has ever been done in Wake County,” he said. “It’s something I have never seen been done.”

Dobson said he learned of the relevant statute when he handled a pair of lawsuits against Baker in 2020 over his restrictions on pistol purchase permits in Wake County.

The petition will be invalid if a judge does not review it before Baker leaves office, Dobson said.

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Republicans from North Carolina who are bringing the case to the high court argue that a provision of the U.S. Constitution known as the elections clause gives state lawmakers virtually total control over the “times, places and manner” of congressional elections, including redistricting, and cuts state courts out of the process.

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