On a Sunday night in the summer of 2016, a Georgia police officer pulled over a white woman he suspected was under the influence. Lieutenant Greg Abbott walked up to her car on the shoulder of an Atlanta highway and stopped at the passenger side window. Asked to take her hands off the steering wheel and pick up her cellphone, the woman refused, telling the officer she'd "seen way too many videos of cops—." He cut her off.
"But you're not black," he told her. "Remember, we only shoot black people. Yeah, we only kill black people, right? All of the videos you've seen, have you seen the black people get killed? You have."
Local ABC affiliate WSB-TV uncovered the exchange after obtaining dash-cam footage of the stop through an open records request. Now—more than a year after the incident—the Cobb County Police Department has opened an internal investigation into what happened, assigning Abbott to administrative duties. He hasn't been suspended from the force.
Abbott's lawyer told WSB-TV the officer's comments "must be observed in their totality to understand their context," suggesting he was rehashing what the suspect had said earlier to reason with her. Though at no point during the three minutes of raw footage WSB-TV obtained does the woman utter the words "black people."
"He was attempting to de-escalate a situation involving an uncooperative passenger," attorney Lance LoRusso told the station. "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."
Cobb County police chief Mike Register told WSB-TV that, to his knowledge, Abbott has never faced a racially based complaint during the 28 years he's served as an officer in the county. Still, he said, the statement was inexcusable.
"No matter what context it was said, it shouldn't have been said," Register told WSB-TV. "We're not making excuses. We're meeting this head-on and we're going to deal with it."
Attorney Suri Chadha Jimenez, who represented the driver in her DUI case, told the Washington Post he was "shocked" when he saw the footage last summer while prepping for his case.
"I heard that, and I cringed," he told the Post. "I had to replay it. I thought, There's no way."
Jimenez added he suspected Abbott thought what he said to the driver "was a joke," intended to be taken as sarcasm. Abbott hasn't commented on the incident.
The Cobb County Police Department completed a review in May that addressed "public perceptions of racism" in the force, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported. Though the review didn't churn up any evidence of discriminatory policing, the county has been plagued by accusations before. In January 2016, a Cobb police officer resigned after being caught on video telling a black driver "I don't care about your people," along with being accused of racial profiling for following the county's only black commissioner in an undercover car, the AJC reports.
"The reality is," Jimenez told the Post, "to us minorities, there is a real fear when you're pulled over."
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