CHEROKEE COUNTY, Ga. — A Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman has been taken off of the case of the deadly Asian spa shootings after controversial comments during a news conference and recent Facebook posts.
On March 16, four people were killed outside an Asian massage parlor near Acworth. The alleged gunman then drove to Atlanta, where he targeted two more Asian massage parlors, killing four more people, police said.
Robert Aaron Long, 21, was arrested in connection to the shootings. Long told deputies he struggled with sex addiction and wanted to “remove temptation.”
During a news conference on Wednesday, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Captain Jay Baker sparked criticism for comments he made about Long, saying the shooter had a “bad day.”
“He was pretty much fed up and kind of end of his rope and yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did,” Baker said.
Baker was already under fire for posts to his personal Facebook page about COVID-19 that many people viewed as racist. The Facebook page has since been deleted.
On Thursday, the sheriff’s department issued a statement saying they believe Baker did not intend to show disrespect for the victims.
They have since told Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Nicole Carr that Baker will no longer be the spokesperson for the case and they are evaluating what his future looks like with the department.
The controversy also caused the department to look at whether they needed to hand their portion of the case off to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. That possibility was scrapped due to the involvement of the FBI.
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In the statement, the sheriff’s office said Baker didn’t mean to offend anyone with his comments.
“Comments made by Cherokee County Sheriffs Office Captain Jay Baker have become the subject of much debate and anger. In as much as his words were taken or construed as insensitive or inappropriate, they were not intended to disrespect any of the victims, the gravity of this tragedy, or express empathy or sympathy for the suspect,” Sheriff Frank Reynolds said in a statement. “There are simply no words to describe the degree of human suffering experienced on Tuesday March 16, 2021 in our community and in Atlanta. Captain Baker had a difficult task before him, and this was one of the hardest in his twenty-eight years in law enforcement.”
Reynolds went on to apologize for any “heartache Captain Baker’s words may have caused.”
A coalition of AAPI Georgia State lawmakers took to the Capitol Thursday, condemning anti-Asian rhetoric and hate crimes.
State Rep. Bee Nguyen criticized Baker’s description of deputies interactions with Long once he was arrested.
“We’ve seen this type of commentary before, the framing of the perpetrator and finding reasons to justify a horrific crime,” Nguyen said. “That doesn’t deserve the characterization of humanity and justification, and the fact that there is district between communities of color and law enforcement, this is one of the reasons that distrust exists.”
The sheriff’s office did not address Baker’s Facebook posts, which he made in March and April of last year. The posts encouraged people to order T-shirts for the “COVID-19: Imported virus from Chy-Na.” Baker said in the posts that he loved the shirt.
Carr spoked to Sherriff Frank Reynolds, who called the press conference a “poor choice of words,” and the Facebook comments “unfortunate.” But given Baker’s position as the office’s chief communicator, Reynolds said they are evaluating his position with the department.
“That’s where we have to look at Jay’s future at the Sheriff’s Office and what it looks like,” Reynolds said. “We haven’t made that determination yet.”
Baker declined to speak with Carr.
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