The last time Demetrius Hollins was arrested, the two Gwinnett County officers who pulled him over lost their jobs, accused of using excessive force.
Nineteen months later, Hollins’ most recent arrest, for allegedly beating and robbing a former girlfriend, could damage the state’s case against fired officers Michael Bongiovanni and Robert McDonald.
“This corroborates everything we’ve said about (Hollins),” said Mike Puglise, Bongiovanni’s attorney. The officers are awaiting trial on charges including aggravated assault and violating their oath of office.
Those charges followed release of cellphone videos capturing Hollins’ April 2017 arrest. Bongiovanni was seen striking Hollins in the head while he stood outside his car with both hands up. Another video showed McDonald arriving at the scene and, with Hollins already lying on the ground and handcuffed, stomping on Hollins’ head.
The officers had encountered Hollins before, in August 2016, for obstructing an officer and possessing less than 1 ounce of marijuana. According to Bongiovanni’s report of the arrest, Hollins had a .380 gun with one bullet underneath his seat.
Puglise said his client’s actions in 2017 were informed by that previous arrest and Hollins’ “violent character.”
“This is who (Hollins) is,” said Puglise, adding that the most recent charges against him — felony robbery and misdemeanor battery — will bolster the officers’ defense.
But that will happen only if the defense can prove the officers knew Hollins had violent tendencies before his arrest, said Atlanta defense attorney Esther Panitch, who is not involved in this case.
“The guy may be a bad actor. But that doesn’t mean the cops get off,” Panitch said.
The August 2016 arrest was the focal point of a recent motions hearing in the officers’ case. McDonald’s attorney Walt Britt requested any incident reports or jail records supporting Hollins’ claim that Bongiovanni struck him. Britt said they’ve seen no such evidence, a signal that Hollins’ credibility will be put to the test by a defense team facing video evidence more difficult to contradict.
There’s no mention of a punch being thrown in the police report detailing that initial arrest, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“We both struggled to place Hollins in handcuffs as he twisted his body, pulled his arms from us and physically resisted arrest,” said Bongiovanni, referring to himself and McDonald.
Puglise insists his client didn’t punch Hollins in April 2017 either, characterizing it instead as an elbow strike, a defensive tactic taught by the FBI.
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