The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office is having a bad day.
In a Thursday statement, Sheriff Frank Reynolds tried to explain why department spokesperson Jay Baker pinned Tuesday’s massage parlor shootings on a 21-year-old white man’s “really bad day”—saying Baker was also having a tough time.
“Comments made by Cherokee County Sheriffs Office Captain Jay Baker have become the subject of much debate and anger,” Reynolds said. “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.”
Reynolds added that while “there are simply no words to describe the degree of human suffering experienced” on Tuesday, “Captain Baker had a difficult task before him, and this was one of the hardest in his twenty-eight years in law enforcement.”
Robert Aaron Long is accused of killing eight people during a shooting rampage at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area on Tuesday night.
During a Wednesday news conference, Baker seemed to downplay the killings, telling reporters Long attributed it to his “sexual addiction” issues. Baker said Long targeted the spas to “take out that temptation.”
“He was pretty much fed up and had been kind of at the end of his rope,” Capt. Baker said during the joint news conference with the Atlanta Police Department. “Yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.”
Police said Long, who was caught two hours after the shootings and allegedly confessed, insisted he didn’t intentionally target people of Asian descent. Still, police—including Baker—said the investigation was ongoing and the murders could still be categorized as a hate crime. On Thursday, Atlanta Police revealed Long has previously frequented at least two of the parlors he attacked.
And the fact that Long allegedly targeted Asian massage parlors and killed a half-dozen Asian women has spurred uproar online and among community leaders. Nearly 3,800 incidents of anti-Asian hate were reported between March 2020 and last month, according to Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition documenting discrimination during the pandemic.
Making matters worse, The Daily Beast found several photos on Baker’s personal Facebook page in which he promoted T-shirts with the slogan “COVID-19 imported virus from CHY-NA.”
And while Reynold’s statement does acknowledge the fury sparked by Baker’s comments, he seemed to glide over the deeper issue and ignored Baker’s own racism entirely.
Noting that he has known the captain “for many years,” Reynolds noted in his Thursday statement that Baker has “personal ties to the Asian community and his unwavering support and commitment to the citizens of Cherokee County are well known to many.” (As previously reported by The Daily Beast, Baker’s adopted brother, a Georgia Superior Court judge, was born in Vietnam to a woman there who had married an American soldier.)
“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,” Reynolds concluded.
Shortly after the statement, the sheriff’s office told WSBTV that Baker will no longer act as a spokesperson for Long’s case as the department pending an internal review.
The racist t-shirt Baker was promoting—which, until the company’s website went offline, was being advertised for $22—includes a yellow biohazard symbol.
“Place your order while they last,” Baker wrote with a smiley face on a March 30, 2020 photo of the shirt.
In another April 2020 post that includes a photo of the t-shirts, Baker also wrote: “Love my shirt...Get yours while they last.”
The shirts appear to be printed by Deadline Appeal, an apparel company owned by a former deputy sheriff from Cherokee County. Deadline Apparel was also selling a T-shirt that featured a bat spreading its wings alongside the words: “Eat less bats.” Behind the bat was a picture of an open white takeout box with a pair of red chopsticks inside, with the phrase “No thank you.” The “Eat less bat” t-shirt was also sold for $22.
Weeks after Baker promoted the anti-Asian shirt on his personal social media, Deadline Apparel received a coronavirus-related $15,600 Paycheck Protection Program loan. While the loan—meant to provide support for small businesses during the pandemic—is relatively small, it was glaring given the company’s apparent willingness to produce racist products.
Baker, Deadline Apparel, and the sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.