Excessive force case against ex-Gwinnett cop goes to jury

County police officer Robert McDonald sits next to his attorney Walt Britt during his trial at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration building in Lawrenceville, February 4, 2020.  STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
County police officer Robert McDonald sits next to his attorney Walt Britt during his trial at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration building in Lawrenceville, February 4, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Pay no attention to that burly sergeant delivering the blow to the chest of motorist Demetrius Hollins, lead prosecutor Charissa Henrich told Gwinnett County jurors on Wednesday.

Focus instead on the sergeant’s protege, Robert McDonald, who stomped the handcuffed Hollins and then pointed a gun at his head, Henrich said in her closing pitch to jurors deciding the former Gwinnett police officer’s fate.

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Michael Bongiovanni was McDonald’s supervisor. They both were fired after the April 2017 incident. Bongiovanni pleaded no contest to charges including aggravated assault and violation of oath of office. He avoided prison time, and testified for the prosecution during McDonald’s trial.

And it was Bongiovanni who first tussled with Hollins during the traffic stop three years ago that led to the current proceedings. The 19-year GCPD veteran called for back-up; McDonald was the first to arrive.

“Sgt. Bongi is the one who set these events in motion,” said defense lawyer Walt Britt, identifying Bongiovanni by his nickname.

McDonald, according to his attorney, did not know what to expect when he arrived on the scene at at the intersection of Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road and Sugarloaf Parkway.

He is charged with aggravated assault, battery and violation of oath of office and faces up to 26 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

“Consider who has a motivation to lie in this case,” Henrich said.

For Britt, the answer was clear.

“The man in charge; what does he get? He gets to plead no contest,” Britt said. “Does that not, in your mind, affect his credibility?”

Bongiovanni testified that McDonald did indeed kick Hollins and point a gun at his temple.

The former sergeant maintained he did nothing wrong.

“(Bongiovanni) would’ve said or done anything,” Britt said. “He violated his oath of office. He lied in his reports. He lied to the district attorney’s office. You can’t base a verdict on anything that man said.”

Henrich seemed to lose patience with the defense’s focus on Bongiovanni.

“He is lying, but he’s not lying about Hollins being in compliance,” she said. “It doesn't negate what (McDonald) did. Don't let him skate because of Bongiovanni.”

Charges against Hollins associated with the traffic stop were dropped. McDonald, Henrich said, is “equally guilty” for the injuries Hollins sustained during the stop.

“Take that uniform off him,” she said. “Take that badge off him. No civilian gets to do that. No one gets to do that.”

She reminded jurors to trust their eyes.

“If you believe that video,” she said, “it’s enough to convict.”

Deliberations resume Thursday.