ATLANTA (AP) — A white suburban Atlanta police officer shown on video telling a black driver "I don't care about your people" has been suspended without pay for two weeks, according to a police department memo released Friday.
Cobb County police Chief John Houser sent a memo Friday to Officer Maurice Lawson saying he would be suspended for two weeks starting Jan. 25. Houser found that Lawson violated policies governing courtesy and unbecoming conduct.
The memo says Lawson has already completed a 16-hour training class on de-escalation and will have to attend 20 additional hours of training on verbal defense and influence in March. Lawson will also be under increased supervision.
Kimberly Bandoh, a lawyer for the driver in the traffic stop, Brian Baker, said they were hoping Lawson would be fired.
"I'm so disappointed," she said.
Lance LoRusso, a lawyer for Lawson did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
Lawson's conduct during the traffic stop reflects poorly on the department and county and has attracted extensive negative media coverage, Houser wrote.
"Loss of emotional control, statements that can be construed as racially biased or insensitive, and unnecessary banter and invitations to step out of a vehicle that have the potential to lead to an altercation are unacceptable and damaging to the citizens involved and our community as a whole," Houser wrote.
In dashcam video of the Nov. 16 encounter, Lawson is seen giving Baker two traffic citations. He then says, "Leave. Go away. Go to Fulton County." Atlanta is in neighboring Fulton County.
After the citations were issued, Lawson can be heard asking Baker if he wants to get out of the car to "talk with" him, which Houser wrote could be seen as "an invitation for a possible altercation." Lawson then continued to engage in heated conversation with Baker, Houser wrote.
After Baker drove off, Lawson was visibly upset, used profanities and could be heard saying, "I lose my cool every time." That caused concern that this might not be an isolated incident and led officials to make random reviews of video from other stops and a fitness for duty evaluation by the county physician.
Houser acknowledged that Lawson immediately recognized his behavior was contrary to department policy and reported his actions himself before any investigation had been started and before the incident got any media attention.
Lawson was given a Jan. 4 memo from the deputy police chief that proposed the two-week suspension without pay and 20-hours of verbal defense and influence training. In a response dated Wednesday, Lawson wrote that he said "I don't care about you people," not "your people." He wrote that there was no racial motivation behind his comments, but he lost his temper when Baker was uncooperative during the traffic stop.
"Mr. Baker set out to be rude, obnoxious, confrontational, and to obstruct my investigation and that is exactly what he did, Lawson wrote. "Unfortunately, I was rude back to him."
He wrote that based on what he has heard and his lawyer's experience, "an 80-hour suspension is excessive for a courtesy complaint."
A letter of reprimand would be more appropriate, he wrote. Losing an entire paycheck is excessive and will create hardship for his family and also sets a bad precedent within the department that if an incident gets enough media attention, the punishment "will be increased to satisfy those who scream the loudest," Lawson wrote.
"No amount of punishment will make them happy," he wrote. "Therefore, I ask that you avoid the unattainable goal of appeasement and instead impose a fair punishment consistent with our policies."