Warren co-chairing committee investigating allegations that governor’s staff intimidated director of SBI

Published 12:09 am Saturday, April 15, 2023

RALEIGH — As a co-chair for the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Rep. Harry Warren will be overseeing an investigation into allegations that members of Gov. Roy Cooper’s staff attempted to intimidate and control the director of the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), Bob Schurmeier.

Schurmeier testified last month to the committee that Cooper’s Chief of Staff Kristi Jones and General Counsel Eric Fletcher tried to intimidate him into resigning and interfered with his hiring authority. He alleges that Jones and Fletcher threatened an investigation into his management in a series of three meetings in late 2022 after a personnel complaint was made against him.

Jones responded to Schurmeier’s investigation on behalf of the governor’s office in a letter sent to the Oversight Committee stating that current and former agents of the SBI have raised “serious concerns focused on such issues as a lack of racial diversity among sworn SBI agents, promotion decisions and practices and access to training, among others.” She confirmed that Schurmeier was told an outside review into his management may be required, which would be conducted by an outside law firm and could cost the SBI over $100,000. This was one of the meetings  in which Schurmeier alleges the intimidation took place.

Warren said Schurmeier’s testimony was “very compelling” and it is the Oversight Committee’s duty to investigate all allegations and hear both sides of the story.

“It is a serious accusation because the political meddling into the SBI is just totally unacceptable. The SBI needs to be an independent agency, which was its intent when we pulled it out from underneath the attorney general back in 2014 and moved it over to DPS,” Warren said Thursday evening.

Warren is referring to a 2014 decision by the General Assembly that moved the SBI from the Department of Justice to the Department of Public Safety to hopefully improve its operations but still allow it to be run as an independent agency. Schurmeier testified the move has lead to more interference from the governor’s office; DPS is headed by an appointee of the governor who is also a member of the governor’s cabinet.

Warren said it is imperative the SBI be an independent agency because it investigates issues concerning election integrity and political corruption.

“What we’re all really concerned about is that this agency needs to be free from political influence. It needs to be able to perform its functions without being under the pressure of another agency or executive position,” Warren said.

But Warren said the situation is a little ironic. When the General Assembly first moved the SBI to DPS it was Cooper — not yet governor but the state’s attorney general at the time — who said it was the wrong move because the director of the SBI could potentially be influenced by the governor. Now, Schurmeier is alleging that the governor and his office are doing the exact things Cooper warned about in 2014.

The House budget, which was passed last week, calls for the SBI to cut ties with DPS to insure the agency’s independence and to remove “any possible confusion over the loyalties of the director’s staff and any leverage the governor would have through DPS bureaucratic slow walking,” according to an op-ed published in the Raleigh News & Observer, Charlotte Observer and Durham Herald-Sunfrom from Warren and the committee’s other co-chair, Rep. Jake Johnson.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee has invited Jones, Fletcher and Gray to testify before the committee on Tuesday, April 18.