Attorney wants ex-Gwinnett cop’s traffic stop indictment tossed

An attorney representing one of the now-former Gwinnett County police officers charged in a violent 2017 traffic stop  is trying to get the indictment against his client tossed.

In attempting to get now-former Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni off the hook, attorney Mike Puglise is also challenging the law that places new restrictions on the grand jury privileges of Georgia law enforcement officers facing possible criminal charges.

“It’s quite a novel idea,” Puglise, a former police officer himself, said of the argument he made last week in his motion to quash the indictment against Bongiovanni.

In 2016, Gov. Nathan Deal signed a law that took away accused law enforcement officers' ability to sit through entire grand jury proceedings, listen to the evidence against them and then make a statement that couldn't be challenged or questioned by prosecutors.

Georgia was the only state in the country that granted law enforcement personnel such privileges. The new law still gives officers the opportunity to testify in front of the grand jury but their statements are subject to cross-examination.

Puglise’s brief motion takes issue with one particular aspect of the new law — a section that instructs the prosecutor presenting the case to “advise the grand jury that an officer has the right to appear and testify or not to appear and testify and that, if the officer chooses not to testify, the grand jury shall not consider that in any way in making its decision.”

Puglise said he’s arguing that the notification that his client — who didn’t testify before his grand jury — could have chosen to take the stand violates his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

“I think if you’re going to make [everyday defendants and law enforcement officers] equal, it’s all well and good,” Puglise said. “But go the whole enchilada, go the whole plate, and go where there’s not mention that they could’ve testified and chose not to.”

A hearing on Puglise’s motion and others was originally scheduled for this week. Due to attorney conflicts, it was rescheduled for September.

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said in an email that he believes the statute — and his indictment — will withstand the legal challenge because the law “also provides for a warning to the officer before he testifies (if he testifies).”

Bongiovanni was indicted in February on a total of eight charges: aggravated assault, three counts of violation of oath of office, two counts of false writings and two counts of battery.

He and then-Master Police Officer Robert McDonald are both accused of unnecessarily striking a motorist during a May 12, 2017, traffic stop near Lawrenceville. Bongiovanni is also accused of Tasering the motorist, 21-year-old Demetrius Hollins, and lying in his official accounts of the incident.

McDonald faces three charges, including aggravated assault. That charge stems from him allegedly pointing his gun at Hollins’ head.

The Gwinnett County Police Department fired both men the day after the incident, when two bystander cellphone videos of the incident surfaced. They turned themselves in to face criminal charges about two weeks later and were released on bond.

McDonald’s legal team has previously argued that McDonald should have immunity from the charges against him and has asked that, if immunity is not granted, his case be tried separately from Bongiovanni.