Former Gwinnett County police officer Michael Bongiovanni will testify against his onetime partner for beating an unarmed motorist in an encounter was captured on videotape.
Bongiovanni, whose trial was to begin in less than two weeks, pleaded no contest Tuesday to aggravated assault and battery charges, Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter said. Porter said the former officer was remanded to the jail, where he will spend the next six months on a work release program.
Once those six months are complete, Bongiovanni will spend the following five months under home confinement, tracked by an ankle monitor, Porter said.
The deal is bad news for former officer Robert McDonald, whose trial has not yet been scheduled but is likely to occur this fall. Bongiovanni was McDonald’s former supervisor and an 18-year veteran of the force.
Gwinnett Police Chief Butch Ayers fired the two white officers in April 2017 after videos surfaced of them punching and kicking Demetrius Hollins, an African American, as he lay on the ground, handcuffed, following a traffic stop. Bongiovanni and McDonald were slapped with criminal charges soon after.
Ayers said McDonald, an officer for three years, was apologetic about his actions. Bongiovanni was anything but, telling the chief, “It’s different out on the streets.”
In each video, Hollins did not appear to be resisting arrest. Hollins was pulled over for not having a license plate and changing lanes multiple times without signaling, according to an incident report. Hollins did not pull over but his car eventually stalled out.
Bongiovanni punched Hollins shortly after the 21-year-old emerged from his vehicle with his hands up. He was handcuffed and on the ground when McDonald kicked him in the head.
Bongiovanni had long claimed that he never struck Hollins. The ex-officer’s former attorney, Mike Pugliese, said he used an elbow strike, a defensive tactic taught by the FBI.
That was Bongiovanni and McDonald’s second encounter with Hollins, whom they had arrested in August 2016 for obstructing an officer and possessing less than 1 ounce of marijuana, according to a police report at the time. Hollins’ lawyer, Justin Miller, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Bongiovanni also punched Hollins during that first encounter.
But according to Bongiovanni’s report on the first arrest, Hollins had a .380 gun with one bullet underneath his seat.
“We both struggled to place Hollins in handcuffs as he twisted his body, pulled his arms from us and physically resisted arrest,” Bongiovanni, referring to himself and McDonald, wrote in his incident report.
According to Don Geary, Bongiovanni’s attorney, his client was not going to let Hollins “pull a gun on him a second time.”
Hollins, meanwhile, was arrested last year for allegedly beating and robbing a former girlfriend.
During a pretrial hearing in November, attorney Walt Britt, who represents McDonald, indicated Hollins’ credibility, or lack thereof, would factor into his client’s defense.
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