Former Gwinnett County Police Department Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni (left) returned to the stand Wednesday  in the excessive force trial of ex-cop Robert McDonald. The junior officer faces criminal charges for kicking a man during a traffic stop. (Credit: Gwinnett County Police Department)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Supervisor defends actions as ex-Gwinnett cop trial takes brief hiatus

At the conclusion of his testimony in the excessive force trial of an officer he once supervised, ex-Gwinnett County Police Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni was asked if he did anything wrong during the April 2017 traffic stop that cost both men their careers.

“You pled guilty simply to help your family out?” defense attorney Walt Britt asked, a reference to Bongiovanni’s plea deal that took the possibility of prison time off the table in exchange for his testimony against former Master Officer Robert McDonald. 

Bongiovanni didn’t hesitate.

“That’s exactly what I’m doing,” he said. 

His testimony was the highlight of Day 5 of McDonald’s trial, which will remain in recess until Friday, possibly longer. Judge Howard Cook agreed to give Britt that time to meet with expert witnesses called by the state. Britt has objected to much of their testimony, arguing the prosecution has an overly liberal interpretation of what constitutes expertise. 

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The veteran defense attorney, soon to enter his fifth decade in practice, had spent the morning trying to get Bongiovanni to take some responsibility for his actions during and after Hollins’ arrest. But the former lawman didn’t budge.

Bongiovanni denied lying in his use of force report, though Police Chief Butch Ayers cited inconsistencies in that report in announcing the 19-year veteran cop’s dismissal. He denied trying to hide anything, saying it was written “to the best of his knowledge, 14 hours into a shift and without benefit of the cell phone video that captured the incident.

And why did he tell internal affairs investigators about McDonald’s stomp but not about his own punch? Bongiovanni said he was asked only about McDonald. 

That interview came before a second video surfaced showing him strike Hollins in the face. Bongiovanni said he didn’t elbow Hollins, defending the move as a defense tactic, perfectly legal when dealing with unruly suspects.

McDonald is expected to take the stand in his own defense, but that probably won’t come until next week.

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

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