Capt. Jay Baker, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson who has courted controversy on more than one occasion amid the Atlanta-area spa shooting spree case, will no longer be handling that case, the sheriff announced Thursday. Cherokee County Communications Director Erika Neldner will take over, USA Today reports. Baker first sparked ire with his statement that accused shooter Robert Aaron Long was "fed up" and having a "really bad day" when he allegedly carried out the shootings, which left eight dead, six of them Asian women. It later came out that Baker had, on social media, promoted racist T-shirts claiming the coronavirus was "imported from Chy-Na." Hours earlier, the sheriff had released a statement defending Baker (he called the case "one of the hardest in his 28 years in law enforcement") while apologizing for his remarks on Long.
The statement did not mention the T-shirt posts, and when Baker was later removed from the case, no specific reason was given. A WSB-TV reporter tweeted the news that his future at the sheriff's office is currently being evaluated. The reporter also said the sheriff's office is discussing whether to turn its portion of the case (one of the three shootings took place in Cherokee County) over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Baker has also been criticized for seeming to distance the shooting from the category of hate crime, for which authorities must prove must prove victims were targeted due to race, color, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation. But in Atlanta itself, where the other two shootings took place, Deputy Police Chief Charles Hampton was not ruling out hate crime charges, NBC News reports. "We had four Asian females that were killed, and so we are looking at everything to make sure we discover and determine what the motive of our homicides were," he said. (Read more Robert Aaron Long stories.)