Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday named a veteran of the State Bureau of Investigation to serve as his secretary of public safety, leading one of the biggest Cabinet agencies.
Erik Hooks is a former assistant director at the SBI who currently serves as the special agent in charge overseeing the inspections and compliance unit. Hooks is African-American and Cooper, who took office Sunday, said he’ll be a good choice to help bridge divides between minority communities and law enforcement.
“He has an understanding of people in our community,” Cooper said. “We definitely have work to do to repair some of the trust issues that exist in some of our communities of color and law enforcement. I think Erik will certainly be leading the way in that effort.”
The Department of Public Safety oversees law enforcement agencies like the SBI, Highway Patrol and Alcohol Law Enforcement, as well as the state’s prison system, juvenile justice agency and emergency management agency.
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The governor’s office did not respond to a request for Hooks’ new salary. He’ll replace McCrory appointee Frank Perry, who received $138,040 annually.
Hooks, 50, is a native of Spring Lake near Fayetteville and a graduate of N.C. State University. He has spent his entire law enforcement career with the SBI, starting in 1989 as a resident agent in northeastern North Carolina.
“Erik Hooks has worked every kind of crime from drug trafficking to public corruption and homeland security critical issues, and he has my confidence as a proven investigator and supervisor,” Cooper said. “As attorney general, I worked with Erik closely and saw him in action on a day-to-day basis.”
The SBI was overseen by the attorney general until 2014, when Republican lawmakers moved the agency to the Department of Public Safety – essentially taking SBI oversight from Cooper, a Democrat, and giving it to then-Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican.
When Hooks served as the SBI’s assistant director from 2005 to 2014, he led the agency’s professional standards division, running internal affairs investigations that reviewed the actions of agents in some of the SBI’s most sensitive cases.
After death row inmate Alan Gell was awarded a new trial in 2002, Hooks reviewed the work of SBI agent Dwight Ransome.
“Overall the case was fairly well documented,” Hooks wrote in a 2003 memo, though he listed a few areas “that could have warranted more attention.”
Gell was then acquitted in a 2004 trial and sued Ransome. In 2009, the SBI and its insurer settled the case for $3.9 million.
Hooks’s 2011 testimony was critical in gaining a new trial for Durham novelist Michael Peterson, who was convicted of killing his wife in the staircase of their Durham home.
Hooks’ testimony helped to undermine the credibility of SBI agent Duane Deaver, a crucial witness against Peterson.
Deaver testified he had written 200 reports analyzing blood stains. Hooks contradicted Deaver, testifying that the agent had only written 47 such reports in his entire 24-year career.
When McCrory’s Department of Public Safety took over the SBI in 2014, Hooks was removed from his post as assistant director. His new job as special agent included a fraction of his previous responsibilities and a salary cut from $97,283 to $92,500, but SBI leaders said at the time that the change wasn’t a demotion.
More appointments coming
Thursday’s announcement leaves Cooper with seven Cabinet positions still to fill: Administration, Commerce, Revenue, Natural and Cultural Resources, Health and Human Services, Military and Veterans Affairs and Information Technology.
Cooper has named interim agency secretaries – many with previous experience under Democratic governors – who are running their departments and will continue until each agency has a permanent secretary.
So far, most of Cooper’s hires have been people with extensive experience in state government, either working for previous Democratic governors or in the attorney general’s office with Cooper.
That approach to hiring is a big contrast with McCrory, who often favored appointees from the private sector.
It’s unusual for a governor to begin a term in office without having a Cabinet appointed; McCrory named his entire Cabinet before he took office. Cooper has said obstacles have slowed the process, including the election, post-election legal challenges, and three special sessions of the legislature that he was directly involved in.
Cooper’s Cabinet picks will need to be confirmed by the state Senate – a new requirement Republican lawmakers imposed last month during a special legislative session aimed at limiting Cooper’s authority. Details of the confirmation process haven’t yet been released, but GOP Senate leaders expect to include that in the official session rules they’ll adopt when they return to Raleigh next week.
Staff writer Joseph Neff contributed to this report