The president of a New Jersey police union is facing potential disciplinary action after YouTube videos surfaced that feature him rapping and using violent, offensive lyrics while flanked by three other police officers in his department, including one who wields a medieval mace.
The four officers were off-duty when the rap videos were shot, but the head of the Irvington Police Department says officers should maintain certain standards even when off the clock.
"The agency represents the community that it polices," Police Director Joseph Santiago told NBC 4 New York. "As a police officer, we really don't have too much private conduct. Everything we do is public."
In the video, officer Maurice Gattison uses anti-gay lyrics and vows violence against his rivals. He has a gun on his hip and is surrounded by a "posse" of three other officers. The cops do not identify themselves as police in the video, but it appears one officer's badge is visible.
The videos were filmed last November and uploaded to YouTube late last year; access to them has been restricted, but NJ.com obtained copies of them in January.
In one video, Gattison, known as hip-hop's "Gat the Great," calls himself a "felon for life" and pretends to fire a gun at the camera while telling other rappers they may have to "meet (his) Smith & Wesson."
Gattison, a longtime officer whose boss called him a good detective, says he did nothing wrong. He told reporters at a press conference Tuesday he's been performing under the name "Gat the Great" for years and that he uses it on his Twitter account.
"It was basically me adapting to the rap culture and just basically slang use," he said.
He said he's been rapping since he was a teenager and his lyrics were not directed toward anyone in particular. He maintained that his hobby of rapping is in harmony with his commitment to serve.
Gattison also told NJ.com the town's highest-ranking police officer invited him to rap at a department Christmas party, questioning why the officer would have extended the invite if the department had a problem with his lyrics.
"Would my conduct come under question if I was at karaoke night and singing Tupac songs?" he asked. "Would it come under question then?"
Gattison's laywer Anthony Iacullo said at the press conference the video was "intended to be a form of expression, artistic, and it was something that should not be misconceived by anyone."
Santiago called for an internal investigation after he saw the clips. Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith also saw the videos; he called Gattison's lyrics "inappropriate" and assured NJ.com there would be "corrective action."
An Irvington attorney told NJ.com that while Gattison's lyrics could be deemed troubling, they may also be protected as free speech.
A former Manhattan district attorney, however, told the website that an officer's free speech is not unlimited when he or she is off-duty because it can negatively impact the department.
Any charges that stem from the internal investigation would have to be filed by the end of the month.