Officer captured on video hitting man convicted of assault
LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. (AP) — A former police sergeant in Georgia who was captured on video hitting a man during a traffic stop has been convicted of aggravated assault and battery.
Michael Bongiovanni, 44, on Tuesday pleaded no contest to the charges, the Gwinnett County district attorney’s office said Wednesday.
Cellphone video showed Bongiovanni hitting Demetrius Hollins as he stood with his hands up during the April 2017 traffic stop. Video also showed then-officer Robert McDonald stomping on Hollins’ head as he lay on the ground handcuffed.
The Gwinnett County Police Department fired the two officers a day after the arrest when the video surfaced.
For the aggravated assault charge, Bongiovanni will serve six months in work release, followed by five months’ home confinement, with the balance of a 10-year sentence to be served on probation, prosecutors said. He was also sentenced to serve a year of probation for the battery charge, but that will be served at the same time as the probation for the aggravated assault charge.
When recommending a sentence, prosecutors weighed several factors, including Bongiovanni’s 19-year law enforcement career, the injuries Hollins suffered and the need for justice for Hollins and the county’s citizens, the release said.
Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Warren Davis also ordered Bongiovanni not to work in law enforcement. He was also ordered to allow the state access to his internal affairs investigation file and to testify against McDonald.
No trial date has been set for McDonald.
Hollins was driving a red Acura without a tag and with a broken brake light when he changed lanes twice and turned right without signaling, Bongiovanni wrote in his incident report.
During the traffic stop, Hollins yelled and began to “act strange,” and based on that and Bongiovanni’s recollection of Hollins’ behavior during a previous arrest in August 2016, Bongiovanni called for backup, the report says.
Hollins refused to obey when Bongiovanni ordered him out of the car and resisted when Bongiovanni tried to arrest him, the report says. Bongiovanni also wrote that McDonald arrived after Bongiovanni had used his stun gun on Hollins and gotten him handcuffed on the ground.
Bongiovanni’s report didn’t mention him hitting Hollins or any contact between McDonald and Hollins.
Witnesses began calling 911 to report excessive use of force by an officer shortly after the arrest, prosecutors said. The witnesses said the officer hit a driver while the driver had his hands up and that another officer ran up with his gun drawn and stomped on the driver’s head.
Videos of the arrest surfaced online and showed Bongiovanni hitting Hollins in the face and McDonald holding his gun as he ran up and stomped on Hollins’ head, prosecutors said.
McDonald had been hired by the department in August 2013 and graduated from the police academy in March 2014. Bongiovanni had been hired in September 1998 and graduated from the academy in February 1999.
After the officers were fired, then-Gwinnett County Solicitor-General Rosanna Szabo, whose office was responsible for prosecuting misdemeanor and traffic offenses in the county, dismissed 89 cases in which either McDonald or Bongiovanni were the main officer or a necessary witness.