Cop Investigated For Making Threats In Gangsta-Style Rap Videos
New Jersey police officers are facing an internal affairs investigation because of rap videos they appeared in while off duty.
Officer Maurice Gattison is president of the Irvington police union and performs under the name “Gat the Great.” The others are decorated officers.
The music video for the song “Temper Like An Alcoholic,” performed by Irvington hip-hop artist “Gat The Great,” embodies all the bad stereotypes of a 1990s “gangsta rap” video.
In the video, posted on YouTube, three other men flank Gat as the broad-shouldered emcee with the booming voice spits out various homophobic slurs and promise violence against his rivals. One man swings a medieval mace, and a handgun can be seen on “Gat’s” hip.
In another video, Gat is decked out in a gaudy fur coat and raps from the driver’s seat of an expensive car. He calls himself a “felon for life” and warns other rappers they may have to “meet (his) Smith & Wesson,” while pretending to fire a gun at the camera.
The lyrics might be tame for a hard-nosed rapper, but Gat and his posse are only part-time musicians.
Gat is better known as Officer Maurice Gattison, president of Irvington’s police union, and the other three men are decorated township officers. All four are now the subject of an internal investigation because of the video, which has reignited a debate about what police officers can and can’t say. Does the right of free speech trump department rules and regulations when the cops are off-duty?
“The Irvington Police Department has standards of conduct that apply to on-duty and off-duty behavior,” Police Director Joseph Santiago said.
“Those standards have consistently been applied in circumstances where the officer’s private behavior undermines the police department’s position in the community or creates the impression that its members may not be able to fairly enforce the law.”
Gattison is the latest police officer to face potential discipline over conduct involving social media.
Orange Police officer Hector Rosado was fired in 2011 after he used a racial slur on Twitter, reclaiming his job only after he threatened to sue. Earlier this year, two West Orange cops found themselves under internal investigation after they openly heckled friends of a Newark shooting victim on Facebook, and disclosed what they believed to be the victim’s criminal record.
The potential consequences of off-duty conduct were also highlighted by the case of West Orange Sgt. John Feder, who almost lost his job in 2006. Feder, an internal affairs investigator who moonlighted as a comedian and made controversial jokes about pedophilia and bestiality, retired with a full pension as part of an agreement with the town after he was suspended.
While those cases almost immediately lead to internal probes, Gattison’s video has split Irvington’s leaders.
Santiago called for an investigation after viewing the clip, and Mayor Wayne Smith called Gattison’s lyrics “inappropriate” and promised “corrective action.”
Township attorney Marvin Braker said he was troubled by some of Gattison’s lyrics, but the song could be considered protected free speech.
Gattison, a veteran cop whom Santiago described as a talented and productive detective, doesn’t understand the controversy. He said he has been rapping since he was a teenager and the insults weren’t aimed at anyone or meant as threats.
“I’m not doing nothing to nobody,” he said.
“I could see if I was targeting somebody, but it’s just lyrical exercise.”
And if police officials had a problem with the music, Gattison asked, then why did the town’s highest-ranking officer invite him to rap at a department Christmas party?
The video was shot in November, according to Gattison, who said most officers knew about the clip. In December, Gattison said he was invited to perform at the department’s holiday party by Capt. Dwayne Mitchell, who is running the department while Police Chief Michael Chase serves an indefinite suspension on misconduct charges.
Mitchell did not return calls seeking comment. The videos were posted to YouTube late last year, and The Star-Ledger obtained copies of them in January. Access to the videos has since been restricted, but Gattison says he did not post the clips and has no control over their use.
The four officers do not identify themselves as police in the video, though what appears to be one officer’s badge can be seen. Wayne Fisher, the former deputy director of the state division of criminal justice who wrote many of New Jersey’s guidelines on police discipline, said Gattison did nothing wrong.
“If they had taken part in a Shakesperean play, and the character talked about murdering people, would there be any outrage?” he asked. “In this instance, their First Amendment rights trump anything else.”
Other experts disagreed and said Gattison’s comments could negatively affect the department.
“Your free speech off-duty is not unlimited,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former Manhattan district attorney who now serves as a professor at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice.
“Things that can impede the agency’s work, cause disgrace to the agency or subject the agency to ridicule can be legitimate issues for internal action.”
Santiago has until the end of the month to file charges, if he believes any are appropriate.