By CHRISTINE HAUSER and JACEY FORTIN | NYT | AUG. 31, 2017
A police officer in Georgia has left his position after he was recorded on a dashboard camera trying to convince a white woman that she had nothing to worry about during a traffic stop because she was not black.
The Cobb County Police Department said on Thursday that it was “moving forward” with the process to “terminate” the employment of the officer, Lt. Greg Abbott. He retired on the same day, the department confirmed on Friday.
The video, obtained by WSB Channel 2 Action News in Atlanta, shows Lieutenant Abbott standing at the side of a car during a traffic stop last year. He tells the woman, a passenger, that she could use her cellphone.
“It’s in your lap right there,” he says. She replies that she does not want to move her hands, saying she has seen “way too many videos” about how the police behave at traffic stops.
“But you’re not black,” Lieutenant Abbott replies. “Remember, we only kill black people. Yeah. We only kill black people, right?”
Georgia cop to driver: “We only kill black people.” Video by WSB-TV
WSB-TV published an excerpt from the interaction on Thursday after it obtained the video through an open-records request.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Chief Mike Register of the Cobb County Police Department said the comments were “inexcusable and inappropriate.”
“I’ve known Lieutenant Abbott for a number of years, and I’ve always perceived him to be an honorable man. But he made a mistake,” Chief Register said, adding that the department had begun the process of firing him.
On Friday, Cobb County Police Sgt. Dana Pierce said that Lieutenant Abbott submitted his retirement request, and had it approved, on the day of the news conference.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Sam Heaton, Cobb County’s public safety director, said that Lieutenant Abbott “did request an immediate retirement and we have approved his request. He is entitled to his full retirement benefits and would have been even if terminated.”
Sergeant Pierce confirmed that the statement was made by Mr. Heaton, who could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday evening.
Chief Register was appointed to lead the department in June.
The police in Cobb County, which is northwest of Atlanta and is Georgia’s third most populated county, with about 741,000 people, have come under scrutiny for race relations in the past. A report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police gave the department a high community approval rating, but also mentioned a perception of discriminatory and biased policing, WSB reported.
Andrea Young, the executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, said the department should pursue diversity and cultural training. “Under zero circumstances is it ever appropriate to joke about police officers committing murder,” she said in an emailed statement.
The traffic stop took place on July 10, 2016, at about 3 a.m. on Interstate 75 near Marietta, the county seat. The male driver was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence, his lawyer, Surinder Chadha Jimenez, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. The woman was a passenger in the car, he said.
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Mr. Chadha Jimenez said he had watched the video to prepare for his client’s case. He said that it appeared the officer “didn’t like the way” the woman was talking to him during the arrest of the man, and that “they kept going back and forth.”
“From my perspective of the video, she was being truthful about her fear and the cop took it as a joke or an insult,” he said. He added that he did not think the officer had “meant malice” and that he had “made a bad joke.”
“The Cobb County police are addressing it appropriately,” Mr. Chadha Jimenez said.
Lieutenant Abbott’s lawyer, Lance J. LoRusso, said in a statement emailed on Thursday, before the chief’s news conference, that the 27-year veteran of the force was cooperating with a police investigation.
“He was attempting to de-escalate a situation involving an uncooperative passenger,” Mr. LoRusso said. “In context, his comments were clearly aimed at attempting to gain compliance by using the passenger’s own statements and reasoning to avoid making an arrest.”
At the news conference, Chief Register said Mr. Abbott’s comments might have been made “from a sarcastic standpoint,” but were inappropriate regardless of context.