NEW: No disciplinary action can take place once officer retires, official says
Lawyer: Officer was trying to de-escalate a situation, show in July 2016 dashcam footage
A police lieutenant in Georgia caught on dashcam telling a woman in a traffic stop that “we only kill black people” plans to retire.
Cobb County police Lt. Greg Abbott stood to lose his job for the remarks. But Cobb County Public Safety Director Samuel Heaton said Friday the department had received an e-mail from Abbott requesting immediate retirement.
“He was eligible for that. Once he retires he is no longer employed so no disciplinary action can take place. He is entitled to his retirement, which he would’ve received even if he was fired,” Heaton told CNN.
‘Inexcusable and inappropriate’
An attorney for Abbott said the comments from the traffic stop “must be observed in their entirety to understand their context.”
Abbott, a 27-year veteran of the force, was attempting to de-escalate a situation involving an uncooperative passenger, attorney Lance J. LoRusso said in a statement.
The lawyer said the video showed that “his comments were clearly aimed at attempting to gain compliance by using the passenger’s own statements and reasoning to avoid making an arrest.”
But Cobb police Chief Mike Register said that no matter the context, the statements were “inexcusable and inappropriate” and did not reflect the culture he’s trying to build in the suburban force north of Atlanta.
The July 2016 video was first reported Wednesday by CNN affiliate WSB-TV in response to an open records request. Register, who took over as chief in June, said an internal review recommended terminating Abbott’s employment.
“I’ve known Lt. Abbott for a number of years, and I’ve always perceived him to be an honorable man. He made a mistake. I don’t know what’s in his heart, but I certainly know what came out of his mouth. And, it’s inexcusable and we have to take appropriate action.”
Cobb County police did not respond to multiple requests for information about the traffic stop. Abbott has been on administrative duties after the police dashcam footage surfaced.
‘A sarcastic standpoint’
A portion of the video shows Abbott trying to talk a woman out of her vehicle so he can impound her car. Much of the conversation is inaudible. When he tells her to reach for her phone in her lap, she responds, “I just don’t want to put my hands down.”
“I’ve just seen way too many videos of cops …,” she says amid garbled crosstalk, prompting his response.
“But you’re not black. Remember? We only kill black people. Yeah. We only kill black people, right? All the videos you’ve seen, have you seen (inaudible) people get killed?”
The video caused widespread outcry after its release Wednesday, leading to the department’s recommendation to terminate Abbott’s employment, Register said.
The police chief acknowledged that the internal review suggested Abbott was attempting to invoke “a sarcastic standpoint” to handle the situation. However, such comments threaten to undermine the public’s trust in law enforcement, he said.
“In my opinion, I feel that no matter what context you try to take those comments in, the statements were inexcusable and inappropriate, and they’re not indicative of the values that I’m trying to instill within the Cobb County Police Department and I believe that the county holds,” he said.
“My staff’s worked hard. Men and women who wear the Cobb County uniform have worked hard. And I think that we have done some great things here in the last few months. And it’s sad to think that several seconds of video has the potential of tearing that apart.”
CNN’s Joe Sterling, Artemis Moshtaghian and Evan Simko-Bednarski contributed to this report.