Officers who arrested ‘Benzino’ say they weren’t fazed by racist insults

Officers Andrea Serrano and Travis Nguyen did not know they were arresting a former rapper and reality star when they took Raymond “Benzino” Scott into custody on June 22. He cursed at them and called them racial slurs, but they were praised for exhibiting patience and staying calm during the hourlong incident caught on their body cameras. (Tyson Horne/tyson.horne@ajc.com)

As a local celebrity grew more irate and offensive in his back seat, police officer Travis Nguyen kept his cool. He also kept his body camera rolling.

What transpired would later go viral, as former rapper and reality star Raymond “Benzino” Scott lobbed racist insults toward Nguyen and his partner while being arrested.

Both Brookhaven officers have since been widely praised for the patience they exhibited during the hour-long ordeal. Nguyen, an 11-year veteran who was tasked with driving Scott to the DeKalb County jail, stayed especially mild-tempered as the rapper shouted slurs and other offensive remarks about his race.

RELATED: Body cam catches Atlanta rapper, reality star in racist tirade during arrest

In an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nguyen and rookie Officer Andrea Serrano talked about how they relied on training and their calm demeanors to keep things from escalating during the June 22 incident.

“I’ve run across a lot of situations like this,” said Nguyen, an 11-year veteran of the department. “I kind of blocked everything out. Because it’s nothing personal. At that point I just let him talk.”

Officers Andrea Serrano (left) and Travis Nguyen did not know they were arresting a former rapper and reality star when they took Raymond “Benzino” Scott into custody on June 22. (Tyson Horne/tyson.horne@ajc.com)
Officers Andrea Serrano (left) and Travis Nguyen did not know they were arresting a former rapper and reality star when they took Raymond “Benzino” Scott into custody on June 22. (Tyson Horne/tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Scott is a former Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta cast member who recorded and produced several albums in the early 2000s. The 54-year-old Boston native also co-owned the culture magazine The Source and founded the publication Hip Hop Weekly in 2006.

The incident in Brookhaven began when Nguyen saw a car stopped and blocking traffic on Durden Road, according to a police report. He ran a search on the car’s license plate and found that Scott had an outstanding warrant for not appearing in Brookhaven Municipal Court over a traffic violation, Nguyen said. Serrano was then called to the scene as backup.

According to body camera footage obtained by the AJC, Scott told the officers he had stopped on Durden Road to drop off his son. He said he had no knowledge of a prior ticket issued in the city.

» Read the full arrest report for Raymond ‘Benzino’ Scott

But the officers confirmed the warrant and put Scott in handcuffs to be taken to the DeKalb County jail.

“Then he started getting aggressive,” Nguyen said. “He started using profanity, curse words.”

Though he never became physically combative, Scott hurled a number of anti-Asian insults and slurs at Nguyen, a Vietnamese man who moved to America as a teenager. At one point, Scott called Nguyen “Jackie Chan.” Later, he pretended to order pork fried rice.

Earlier, he also cursed at Serrano, a woman of Mexican and Venezuelan descent. Nguyen said it was probably the worst verbal abuse he’s experienced while on the job.

“I’ve heard racial slurs before toward me, when I was just doing my job,” he said. “I’ve heard them before. Not for an entire one hour.”

Raymond “Benzino” Scott was arrested June 22 and booked into the DeKalb County jail for several hours.
Raymond “Benzino” Scott was arrested June 22 and booked into the DeKalb County jail for several hours.

Credit: DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office

Credit: DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office

The AJC decided not to post the full body cam video because the language is so graphic.

For their part, neither officer knew who Scott was when they arrested him. Days later, their faces were on TMZ, as the story began to make headlines.

“We had no idea until once he was booked in jail. We had some people in the office that are in charge of processing the paperwork, they recognized his name,” Serrano said. “It doesn’t matter who you are. Your race. Your job. It doesn’t matter.”

Scott did not respond to requests for comment over email and direct messages on his official Twitter account.

He said multiple times during the arrest that he was being “harassed” because of his race, and threatened to file a complaint.

“We don’t know your race when we run your tag,” Serrano said. “We explained that to him, but he kept going with the racial slurs to me and Officer Nguyen, which is fine. That’s part of our job.”

Officers Andrea Serrano (left) and Travis Nguyen speak about how they are trained to deal with encounters with people who become frustrated.
Officers Andrea Serrano (left) and Travis Nguyen speak about how they are trained to deal with encounters with people who become frustrated.

Credit: Tyson Horne/tyson.horne@ajc.com

Credit: Tyson Horne/tyson.horne@ajc.com

Nguyen’s tenure as an officer started in Clayton County before he was hired in Brookhaven. Serrano is just shy of one year on the job, although she has been working toward a career in law enforcement since she was in high school.

Police officers receive frequent training on how to respond to different types of situations and people exhibiting various levels of distress.

“As police officers, we are held to a higher standard,” Nguyen said. “If I talked to him like he did, now I’m stooping to his level.”

The body cam not only provided shocking footage of Scott's behavior, but it disproved his claim days after the arrest that Serrano cursed at him, she said. Serrano's supervisors reviewed the video and confirmed that she did not use foul language and followed procedures.

The officers said they have been tagged in posts on social media and received texts from family and friends. But the most gratifying responses to the whole ordeal, Nguyen and Serrano said, have been from fellow police officers.

“Unfortunately, we do have that very few percentage of officers that they do something wrong and hopefully they are held accountable for it,” Serrano said. “But the majority is saying ‘thank you’ for showing that the majority of us … we stay calm in situations to try to figure it all out.”

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