By Mitch Kokai
A couple of weeks after announcing his retirement from Gov. Roy Cooper’s Cabinet, Erik Hooks is in line for a top federal emergency management post.
President Biden nominated Hooks Tuesday to serve as deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That’s FEMA’s No. 2 job. It requires Senate confirmation.
Hooks announced earlier this month that he would retire Aug. 1 from his state job as secretary of the Department of Public Safety. Hooks also had served as the state’s homeland security adviser.
As head of DPS, he helped oversee North Carolina’s response to hurricanes, violence in understaffed prisons, mob teardowns of Confederate statues on public property, last summer’s riots and protests, and the COVID pandemic.
Hooks was appointed in January 2017, just after Cooper was sworn in for his first term. He spent 27 years of his 30-year career with the State Bureau of Investigation, eventually becoming deputy director of the agency.
But Hooks and his department have faced scrutiny over the past several years. Among the controversies was a 10% raise Cooper extended to Hooks in 2019 after vetoing the state budget, along with raises for other state public safety employees. As a state employee, Hooks’ retirement income is based on average earnings over the past 48 months. With the raise, Hooks makes $179,403, $41,000 more than he did when appointed to the job in 2017.
During Hooks’ first year in office, an Oct. 12, 2017, escape attempt at Pasquotank Correctional Institution claimed the lives of four DPS corrections employees. Inmates at a prison sewing plant stabbed and battered guards with scissors and hammers. Prisoners set fire to the facility.
In addition to the four guards’ deaths, eight officers and four inmates were hurt. Four inmates were charged with first-degree murder.
Before that, in April 2017 at Bertie Correctional Institution, a 29-year-old sergeant died after an inmate beat her with a fire extinguisher.
The violence led Hooks and lawmakers to propose changes. In 2018, Hooks called for a top-to-bottom review of the corrections system and training. Hooks and his department also faced accusations about a lack of action in 2020, when rioters tore down public statues in the capital city and other locations across the state.
Hooks would be the second Cooper Cabinet secretary to take a prominent position in the Biden administration. Michael Regan, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, had served as Cooper’s secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality.