Gwinnett Officers Charged; Police Say Video Showed Assault
Police on Wednesday filed charges against two fired Georgia police officers who authorities say were captured on video kicking and hitting a man during a traffic stop. On Thursday morning, Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni had turned himself, with Master Officer Robert McDonald expected to follow sometime later in the day.
Bongiovanni, 42, and McDonald, 25, were fired April 13, a day after police said video showed Bongiovanni hitting Demetrius Hollins as he stood with his hands up and McDonald stomping on Hollins' head as he lay on the ground handcuffed.
Each man faces a felony charge of violation of oath of office and a misdemeanor battery charge.
Mike Puglise, a lawyer for Bongiovanni, said his client maintains his innocence and is disappointed by the charges.
"He's in a fight for his life and he plans to vigorously defend himself," Puglise said. He has previously said Bongiovanni was following procedure and using an elbow strike, a defensive tactic taught by the FBI.
Puglise said last week that Bongiovanni has asked the police human resources department to reinstate him.
A working phone number for McDonald could not be found, and it was not clear whether he had an attorney who could comment on the charges.
The police department worked closely with the district attorney's office during the criminal investigation, and Chief Butch Ayers said the department and its employees "will continue to serve the citizens while maintaining our core values and highest level of professionalism."
Gwinnett County Solicitor-General Rosanna Szabo, whose office prosecutes misdemeanor and traffic offenses in the county, on April 14 dismissed 89 cases in which either McDonald or Bongiovanni was the main officer or a necessary witness.
"The actions of these officers completely undermine their credibility and they cannot be relied upon as witnesses in any pending prosecution," Szabo said in a news release.
McDonald, who was hired by the department in August 2013 and graduated from the police academy in March 2014, had reached the rank of master police officer. Bongiovanni, a sergeant, was hired in September 1998 and graduated from the academy in February 1999. Police earlier this month released the two former officers' personnel files.
Bongiovanni's last two annual evaluations, filed in June 2016 and June 2015, describe a well-liked supervisor with good management skills who kept his cool in stressful situations and cared about his officers. He received a rating of "often exceeds expectations" in nearly every category.
He's received numerous honors and commendations during his nearly two years with the department, including good conduct awards and sharing officer of the month honors for January of this year.
But disciplinary records show he was nearly demoted in 2014 for leaving his highway interdiction team unsupervised several times a week to go exercise while on duty. According to an evaluation from June 2014, he also left to visit his wife and go home early while his officers were on an active narcotics detail. His supervisor said he did not provide proper direction or a good example to his team.
"By his actions, and possibly his words, he portrayed to them that the rules do not apply to some people and they are flexible," the evaluation says.
After Bongiovanni appealed a proposed demotion, he was suspended for 15 days and prohibited from doing part-time jobs for 45 days instead of being demoted.
Over nearly two decades with the department, Bongiovanni had 67 use-of-force reports in his file.
Bongiovanni wrote McDonald's evaluation last June. In it, he described McDonald as "an excellent example of a team player with a strong work ethic" who completed his work on time, was always willing to help others and was courteous and professional with the public. Bongiovanni gave McDonald a rating of "often exceeds expectations" in many categories and no rating lower than "generally meets expectations."
McDonald received a three-year good conduct ribbon in August. He and several other officers were named officer of the month for November 2015. He had three use-of-force reports in his file.
McDonald faced a disciplinary loss of his good driving record after he rear-ended another car in his patrol car in June 2015. But the officer who responded to the accident said in a letter to the department's safety review committee that it would have been very difficult for McDonald to avoid the wreck.