A police department in Georgia has started an investigation into one of its officers 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 video, obtained by WSB Channel 2 Action News in Atlanta, shows Lt. Greg Abbott of the Cobb County Police Department 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 police behave at traffic stops.
“But you’re not black,” Abbott replies. “Remember, we only kill black people. Yeah. We only kill black people, right?”
WSB-TV published an excerpt from the interaction Thursday after it obtained the video through an open-records request. It said the police department had scrutinized the footage and put the officer on administrative leave.
“No matter what context it was said, it shouldn’t have been said,” Chief Mike Register of the Cobb County Police Department told the television station in an interview. Calls to his office Thursday were not returned.
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.
The traffic stop took place 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 Thursday. The woman was a passenger in the car, he said.
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,” Chadha Jimenez said.
Abbott’s lawyer, Lance LoRusso, said in a statement that the 28-year veteran of the force was cooperating with the internal investigation, Channel 2 reported. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.
“He was attempting to de-escalate a situation involving an uncooperative passenger,” 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.”