ONLINE UPDATE: The Cobb police officer captured on dashcam video last year telling a white female passenger that cops “only kill black people” is no longer on the county’s payroll.
“If you’re thinking that I’m walking up here to make an excuse today about the comments that we heard on the video, you’re wrong,” Cobb Police Chief Michael Register said during a press conference Thursday afternoon, addressing a video of a July 2016 traffic stop conducted by Lt. Greg Abbott. The video was obtained by the MDJ Wednesday night through an open records request.
Register said Abbott’s comments amounted to a fireable offense, though the department was taking the proper steps to terminate the officer and had notified him of the department’s intent to move forward with termination proceedings Thursday morning.
It was unknown if Abbott would be appealing the department’s decision.
Return for updates.
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A Cobb Police officer is on administrative leave as the department investigates a dashboard video recording in which he made racial comments to a passenger during a DUI stop last year.
Video of Cobb Police Lt. Greg Abbott from a July 2016 traffic stop shows the officer speaking to a woman in the passenger’s seat who said she was afraid to put her hands down to pick up a cellphone as she had seen “way too many videos” of police shootings.
“But you’re not black. Remember, we only kill black people. We only kill black people, right? All the videos you’ve seen, have you seen black people get killed? You have,” Abbott told the white female passenger in dashcam video footage obtained by the MDJ through an open records request.
A portion of the video was aired on WSB-TV at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Minutes later, the county released a statement announcing that Abbott was on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.
Cobb Police Chief Mike Register told the MDJ he received information about the dashboard video late Friday afternoon. The incident captured on video occurred prior to his tenure as chief, as he was hired this June.
“I was taken aback pertaining to the comment that was made, and I immediately turned it over to our internal affairs for it to be investigated,” Register told the MDJ on Wednesday night, adding that Abbott was also put on administrative duty, which entails reporting to work in civilian clothes, driving a civilian vehicle and having no contact with the public.
“I also requested that this investigation be done very quickly, because it only involves the officer, and you hear what you hear,” Register added. “We are certainly wanting to be fair to the officer, fair to the department and to the community. But there is no context that will explain the appropriateness of these comments, and they are certainly not indicative of the value system that we’re trying to instill.”
Register said the vehicle’s driver, a man, was charged with DUI as a result of the traffic stop. The passenger, who was 20, was also intoxicated, he said.
Though made aware of the video Friday, Register said an immediate decision on Abbott’s employment could not be rendered as the officer must be given due process and the investigation completed.
“We want to make sure that whatever that we do with the employee is legal, and it is within policy. In my opinion, it is a fireable offense, but with that being said, we are following policy on how we address complaints, and we are seeking resolution on this very quickly.”
Abbott is being represented by attorney Lance LoRusso, who said that his client’s comments needed to be put in context. LoRusso also serves as general counsel for the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police.
“He was trying to reason with her to get her to comply with his commands,” LoRusso said. “He was trying to deescalate the situation, and he was using her reasoning.”
LoRusso said his client has “27 years of experience with an exemplary career.”
“He’s a highly respected member of the department,” he said.
Cobb Commission Chairman Mike Boyce told the MDJ he saw the video of Abbott’s comments Tuesday afternoon.
“I was revolted,” Boyce said.
Reached by phone Wednesday evening, Boyce limited his comments, referring to his statement included in the county’s news release.
“I have seen the video and obviously have great concerns. I find the comments on the video repugnant and offensive beyond measure. I have personally spoken with Mrs. Deane Bonner of the Cobb NAACP and Ben Williams, chairman of the Cobb chapter of the SCLC and expressed my deep disappointment about this behavior,” Boyce said in the release. “I have been assured that we will take quick and decisive action.”
County officials told the MDJ that they plan to hold a news conference today on the issue.
The video’s release comes less than 90 days since Register took the reins of the department, and just over three months since the department’s review by the International Association of Chiefs of Police was made public.
The $93,000 IACP study was commissioned by the county last year.
Among the IACP’s report’s “priority 1” recommendations, which were deemed the most vital and pressing, were that the department “acknowledge and address” public perceptions of racism and discriminatory policing, which the report’s authors said was the “root cause” of the department’s strained relationships and lack of public trust with some in the community.
But the report mentioned several times that no evidence of discriminatory practices was discovered within the department.
“Overall, the IACP found the CCPD to have the characteristics of an effective law enforcement agency,” the report states.
Earlier this month, Register led the first session of a planned quarterly series of “Faith Forums” with members of Cobb’s religious community. Among the issues that dominated the session were concerns from black pastors that their parishioners felt officers who drive behind their vehicles may be looking to pull them over due to the color of their skin or other reasons such as their religious affiliation or immigration status.