ATLANTA — A white Georgia police officer shown on video telling a black driver he doesn't care about "your people" is a good decision-maker and was seen as a leader of his 2014 police recruit class, but was also told to work on dealing with the public, his performance reviews show.
County officials are investigating Cobb County police Officer Maurice Lawson's actions in the Nov. 16 traffic stop outside Atlanta, in which he argues with the motorist and refers to him as "cuz."
"Officer Lawson did absolutely nothing wrong other than lose his temper," said Steve Gaynor, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police. "He's an outstanding officer."
Lawson's personnel file, obtained under Georgia's open records law, includes a supervisor's comment that the officer has "an appropriate level of respect towards citizens and his supervisors alike." His conduct "reflects most favorably on the department," the supervisor adds.
Lawson was told during one review that he should continue to develop his "interpersonal skills with the public."
In that section of Lawson's file, a supervisor recounts a June encounter with a "difficult customer" who was being defiant toward officers. The officer notes that Lawson served in the Marine Corps.
"Officer Lawson engaged the subject, and though he did not use profanity he used jargon from the United State Marine Corps," the supervisor wrote. "The suspected gang member did not understand Officer Lawson, and due to this verbal exchange escalated. Officer Lawson should assess the type of individual he is dealing with, and adjust his communication appropriately."
In Lawson's performance reviews, there's no mention of any racial bias or concerns about such issues.
After the Nov. 16 traffic stop that was captured on video, Cobb County police Capt. J.D. Adcock apologized to the driver, Brian Baker, telling him in a letter that Lawson violated the police department's code of conduct.
"Officer Lawson's conduct as he spoke with you does not meet our high standards, has brought discredit to the department and himself, and is not now nor will ever be tolerated," Adcock wrote in the Nov. 24 letter.
Cobb County leaders are now investigating how the police department handled its probe of the traffic stop. Officials have not announced any final disciplinary action involving Lawson.
In Gaynor's view, Lawson "is being chastised by the public, or some of the public, because they think it's racial."
"What I think honestly happened is the argument is going back and forth and the violator is using 'my people, my people,'" Gaynor said. "After Lawson is frustrated, he says 'I don't care about your people.' I think he repeats what the violator says. I don't think it has anything to do with race — I think it's just a repeat of what the violator says to him."
In mid-July, Cobb County Commissioner Lisa Cupid sent a lengthy memo to the police department, which formed the basis of a complaint involving Lawson. Cupid told police that her Lexus was followed by an unmarked car about 1:30 a.m., which left her frightened. She later learned it was driven by Lawson as part of an undercover operation after several vehicle break-ins in the southern part of the county.
"That police officer was not there to protect and serve. He was there to harass and intimidate," Cupid wrote in her memo. "I do not believe for one moment that a Lexus RX 330 would be tailed and intimidated by a police officer in East Cobb, West Cobb or North Cobb, Vinings, the Cumberland area: especially if the driver was white or a neighborhood of affluence."
Cupid wants the police department evaluated by an outside agency, she said in an interview.
Lawson was cleared of any wrongdoing for following Cupid. His supervisors later wrote that Lawson was only doing his job in following a vehicle he considered suspicious at the time.
"Based upon a review of all circumstances, it has been concluded there was never any intent to frighten or intimidate anyone by the officer," police concluded in a report on Cupid's complaint.