Recorded on two separate cellphone videos punching and kicking an unarmed man who did not appear to be resisting, two former Georgia police officers were charged this week with battery and violating their oath of office. Although the officers failed to document the excessive use of force while claiming the suspect had been resisting, the videos clearly show the unarmed man’s hands in the air during the first video and his hands cuffed behind his back when the second officer kicked him in the face.
Around 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Gwinnett County Police Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni reportedly noticed a car changing lanes without using a turn signal and missing a license plate. While conducting a routine traffic stop, Sgt. Bongiovanni called for backup after smelling marijuana and recognizing the driver of the vehicle from a previous arrest in August.
According to Bongiovanni’s incident report, he ordered Demetrius Hollins out of the car when the suspect became belligerent and attempted to push away from him. But according to a witness’ cellphone video, Hollins cautiously exited his vehicle as Bongiovanni tightly gripped his left wrist while aiming a Taser at his face.
As Hollins slowly lifted his empty hands in the air to surrender, Bongiovanni suddenly struck him across the face with his forearm. Hollins collapsed onto his open car door when Bongiovanni fired his Taser and took Hollins to the ground.
Stuck in traffic behind them, another bystander recorded a second video of the incident as Bongiovanni fired his Taser again while Hollins continued writhing on the pavement. Before rolling onto his stomach and placing his hands behind his back, Hollins could be heard shouting, “I will! I will!”
A few seconds after Bongiovanni cuffed the suspect’s wrists behind his back, Officer Robert McDonald suddenly ran toward Hollins and kicked him in the face without justification. Hollins remained motionless on the ground as McDonald drove his knee into the back of his neck.
Despite the fact that Hollins was booked into jail with blood smeared across his nose and lips in his mug shot, Bongiovanni’s incident report failed to mention McDonald’s blatant use of excessive force against the restrained suspect. Shortly after reviewing the cellphone videos of the arrest, the Gwinnett County Police Department terminated both officers.
After the officers were fired, Gwinnett County Solicitor General Rosanna Szabo dismissed 89 cases in which Bongiovanni and McDonald were either the principal officers or necessary witnesses. In a statement from Szabo’s office, the solicitor general wrote, “When police officers betray the public’s trust and confidence, justice demands that all those cases that depend on their credibility be dismissed without delay.”
On Wednesday, Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter announced that Bongiovanni and McDonald have each been charged with misdemeanor battery and a felony count of violating their oath of office. If convicted of the felony charge, the former officers must spend a minimum sentence of one year in prison under state law.
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