Fired Gwinnett cop had previous encounter with suspect he punched

Now-former Gwinnett County police Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni and Master Police Officer Robert McDonald. (Credit: Gwinnett County Police Department)

Now-former Gwinnett County police Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni and Master Police Officer Robert McDonald. (Credit: Gwinnett County Police Department)

A Gwinnett police officer fired Thursday after he was captured on video punching a suspect in a traffic stop was suspended - and nearly demoted - following a citizen complaint three years ago, according to personnel records reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Meanwhile, the attorney for the man Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni is accused of striking on Wednesday said it wasn’t his client’s first violent encounter with the officer.

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Justin Miller, told The AJC that Bongiovanni also punched Demetrius Hollins during a traffic stop last August.

When Bongiovanni pulled Hollins over Wednesday, Hollins remembered him, his attorney said, and reached for his cell phone to record their interaction.

“That was the catalyst for everything,” Miller said, adding that his client and Bongiovanni were jostling for possession of the phone when the sergeant pulled him out of the car.

Bongiovanni was the second of two Gwinnett County police officers fired Thursday after separate cell phone videos from other drivers surfaced online showed the brutal aftermath of a traffic stop near Lawerenceville.

On Thursday afternoon, Master Police Officer Robert McDonald was fired after a video posted on social media showed him kicking Hollins in the head. Hollins was handcuffed and lying on the ground at the time.

Initially, Bongiovanni was not accused of wrongdoing was, instead, praised for reporting McDonald’s actions.

But just hours later, a second video surfaced online showing Bongiovanni punching Hollins. Gwinnett Police Chief Butch Ayers said Bongiovanni had not disclosed the incident in his report or in a subsequent interview.

Ayers said that when Bongiovanni was confronted with the video, he replied, “It’s different on the streets.”

Bongiovanni’s incident report from Wednesday referenced a previous traffic stop involving Hollins though he did not mention any use of force.  There does not appear to be a use of force complaint or report to back up Miller’s claim.

Video from Wednesday showed Hollins with his hands up when Bongiovanni punched him. Then, he Tased him. Soon after, McDonald arrived and kicked Hollins as he lay on the ground, handcuffed.

A video posted to social media appears to show a Gwinnett County police officer kicking a man in the head as he lies on the ground during a traffic stop. Video credit: Kent Jones.

“He wasn’t resisting at all (on Wednesday),” Miller said. “This was pure brutality.”

According to Miller, Bongiovanni told his client, “If you live to be 100 years old you’re going to remember my face.”

The firings had immediate repercussions. On Friday, Gwinnett County Solicitor-General Rosanna Szabo dismissed 89 cases in which McDonald or Bongiovani were either the principal officer or a necessary witness. The cases were all misdemeanor or traffic offenses.

Miller anticipates legal action but said he is waiting for the Gwinnett police investigations into McDonald and Bongiovanni’s conduct to conclude. Both officers face possible criminal charges.

A review of Bongiovanni’s personnel records shows 12 citizen complaints lodged against him that the department’s internal affairs division sustained. It’s unclear what specifically occurred during the incident, in which Bongiovanni was found to have violated department policy regarding his duties as a supervisor in highway interdiction and commercial vehicle enforcement. More records on the case were expected to be made available Friday afternoon.

Demetrius Hollins

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Bongiovanni’s personnel file reveals 67 occasions when he used force in the line of duty. The number seems high when compared to McDonald, who used force three times in his three years on the force before Wednesday. Ayers said that out of 560,000 calls Gwinnett police handled in 2016, force was used 201 times.

Bongiovanni successfully appealed his demotion in 2014 but was suspended 15 days.

Please Return for updates.