Cobb leaders address public over ‘we only shoot black people’ remark

4:06 p.m Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017 Cobb County

A white Cobb County police lieutenant had been moved to administrative duty for telling a white woman during a traffic stop, “Remember, we only shoot black people.”

The Cobb branch of the NAACP said Thursday the officer’s statements, captured on police video footage, were disturbing, but the branch president said she wanted to know more about the incident. 

Channel 2 Action News reported that its request for body camera footage of the traffic stop prompted an internal investigation of Lt. Greg Abbott, who has been on the Cobb force for 28 years. 

The footage shows the officer speaking through the car window to a female passenger in a vehicle who had been stopped for suspected DUI. 

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The woman tells Abbott that she is afraid to reach for her cellphone because “I’ve just seen way too many videos of cops ... ”

At that point, Abbott cuts her off. 

“But you’re not black. Remember, we only shoot black people,” the police veteran of nearly three decades can be heard saying. “Yeah. We only kill black people, right? All the videos you’ve seen, have you seen the black people get killed?”

The footage is from July 2016, before Mike Register took over as chief of Cobb police.

He said that Abbott will remain on administrative duty pending the outcome of the investigation, for which he didn’t give a timeline.

On Thursday, attorney Suri Chadha Jimenez, who represented the driver in the DUI case that resulted from the traffic stop, offered clarification of the incident. 

RELATED: Cobb cops need to work on 'perceptions of racism,' study in May said

Chadha Jimenez said the woman was not the driver of the car but a passenger. He represented the male driver of the car, not the woman, but said he was familiar with the facts of the case. 

The driver was arrested for DUI and placed in the officer’s squad car. The woman was waiting for someone to pick her up from the scene. While she waited, the exchange with the officer occurred.

“She does have a legitimate concern,” Chadha Jimenez said. “I think it was an honestly felt response but the officer’s response mocked her, which wasn’t professional. What bothers me is that he didn’t take her concern seriously.” 

The woman was arrested on charges related to the traffic stop, Chadha Jimenez said. Both her case and the driver’s DUI case were resolved months ago, the attorney said. He would not say if the driver and the woman are related. 

Neither his client nor the woman wants the media attention that has come with the revelations, Chadha Jimenez said. 

“She’s not trying to get paid,” he said. “She wants it to go away.”

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Also on Thursday, the president of the Cobb branch of the NAACP said she was reserving judgment on the matter until the officer’s case has been thoroughly investigated. 

“We know police officers get up every day and protect and serve, but this was so cavalier,” said Deane Bonner, the branch president. “(The) young lady . . . never mentioned ‘black.’ So, for him to take it to that level, it’s just very sad.” 

She continued, “I want to be fair to him and we believe in due process, but as the leader of an organization that deals with people who go through this every day, this strikes a real chord with us,” Bonner said. “Why bring up ‘black’ and not just say ‘people?’ ‘We don’t shoot people.’ 

Bonner also said the organization wanted to know what the officer’s professional record has been and whether he has had any other complaints brought against him.

A statement Wednesday from the department said Chief Register found out about the recording Friday.

“No matter what context it was said, it shouldn’t have been said,” Register told Channel 2.

This was also before a study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police ordered the department to address public perceptions of racism and discriminatory policing.

Chadha Jimenez, the attorney, said he thinks the officer was being sarcastic after the woman “gave him some lip.”

“It makes you cringe when you hear it. It’s unacceptable,” Jimenez said.

Lance LoRusso, Abbott’s attorney, gave the station this statement:

“Lt. Greg Abbott is a highly respected 28-year veteran of the Cobb County Police Department. He is cooperating with the department's internal investigation and will continue to do so. His comments must be observed in their totality to understand their context. He was attempting to de-escalate a situation involving an uncooperative passenger. 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.”

SEE: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s investigation into fatal police shootings

In the police statement, Cobb County Commission Chairman Mike Boyce is quoted as saying: “I have seen the video and obviously have great concerns. I find the comments on the video repugnant and offensive beyond measure.”

This comes a day after the department released information about an officer-involved shooting that injured a 16-year-old’s upper thigh. The shooting was deemed justifiable by a grand jury.

“We are going to keep going forward to make sure we, as a police department, service the community in a most professional way. All segments of the community,” Register said.

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