Georgia officer who said 'we only kill black people' retires, avoiding 'disciplinary action'

A Georgia police lieutenant recorded on video saying "we only kill black people" during a traffic stop is being allowed to retire.

Police chief intended to fire the officer recorded on dashcam video from a July 2016 traffic stop

Comments recorded on police dashcam after woman driver pulled over 1:00

A Georgia police lieutenant recorded on video saying "we only kill black people" during a traffic stop is being allowed to retire.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Cobb County Public Safety Director Sam Heaton confirmed Friday that Lt. Greg Abbott "did request an immediate retirement and we have approved his request."

The announcement came a day after police Chief Mike Register told reporters he intended to fire Abbott. Heaton told the newspaper the officer would have been entitled to full retirement benefits even if he was terminated.

Abbott was recorded on dashcam video from a July 2016 traffic stop. A woman can be heard saying she's scared to move her hands. Abbott, who is white, interrupts her and says, "But you're not black. Remember, we only kill black people."

"Once he retires, he is no longer employed, so no disciplinary action can take place," Heaton told CNN. "He is entitled to his retirement, which he would've received even if he was fired."

Speaking at a news conference, Register said, "I feel that no matter what context you try to take those comments in, the statements were inexcusable and inappropriate. They're not indicative of the values that I'm trying to instill within the Cobb County police department and that I believe the county holds."

This badge and this uniform should mean that there's justice and fairness for all- Police Chief Mike Register

Register said he learned of the comments after television station WSB-TV obtained the video and made the department aware of it. Abbott, who had been an officer for 28 years, was placed on administrative duties while the department investigated the video.

Abbott's attorney, Lance LoRusso, did not immediately respond to an email Thursday seeking comment on the firing. He had earlier said in a statement that Abbott was co-operating with the investigation, and his comments were meant to "de-escalate a situation involving an unco-operative passenger."

Register said he's worked hard since becoming chief in June to strengthen the relationship between the department and the community.

Reworking policies

"It's sad to think that several seconds of video has the potential of tearing that apart, and I hope that is not the case," he said, later adding, "This badge and this uniform should mean that there's justice and fairness for all."

The department plans to rework its policies for reviewing videos to better catch problems, Register said.

Register said he's known Abbott for many years and has known him to be an honorable man. The report from the internal review indicates that Abbott was trying to be sarcastic and to address the situation as he perceived it, Register said.

"He made a mistake," Register said. "I don't know what's in his heart but I certainly know what came out of his mouth. It's inexcusable."

'Particularly troubling'

Black community leaders had earlier applauded Register's commitment.

"Although we applaud them for their transparency in this regard, the officer's interjection of race into the stop was particularly troubling and may be systematic, a deeper issue in the department," said Deane Bonner of the Cobb County chapter of the NAACP.

"Police misconduct is not news," said Ben Williams, chairman of the Cobb County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "The real story here, in my opinion, is the behavior of this police chief in Cobb County, Georgia."

"To be here today and to stand with Chief Register as he pulls the shades up and exposes the sunrise here in Cobb County as that pertains to the conduct of the Cobb County Police Department, that's the news," he added.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this Associated Press story incorrectly quoted the police officer involved as saying, "Remember, we only shoot black people. Yeah. We only shoot black people, right?" In fact, he said, "Remember, we only kill black people. Yeah. We only kill black people, right?"
    Sep 01, 2017 9:56 AM ET