Fired officers had previously arrested same man
ATLANTA (AP) — Two Georgia police officers fired after they were caught on video kicking and punching a man during a traffic stop had arrested the same person eight months earlier during another traffic stop, police records show.
Gwinnett County Police on Thursday announced the firing of Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni and Master Police Officer Robert McDonald, a day after the traffic stop was recorded by witnesses who posted the video online.
Bongiovanni punched Demetrius Bryan Hollins in the face as Hollins stood with his hands up after getting out of his car, police said. Another video showed McDonald, who arrived as backup after Hollins was handcuffed and lying on the ground, immediately stomping on Hollins’ head.
An incident report filed by Bongiovanni following Wednesday’s traffic stop made no mention of Hollins being punched or kicked.
A shift supervisor started investigating McDonald’s behavior immediately, police said. His firing was announced Thursday afternoon. Bongiovanni’s firing was announced later that evening after police said video posted online contradicted his report. Both men are currently under criminal investigation.
A working phone number for McDonald couldn’t be found, and the phone at a number listed for Bongiovanni rang to a full voicemail box. It wasn’t immediately clear whether either man had an attorney.
Bongiovanni’s account of the traffic stop is very similar to the incident report he filed after he arrested Hollins in August. McDonald also responded to his call for backup in that case.
The report from August will be reviewed during the criminal investigation, Gwinnett police spokeswoman Cpl. Michele Pihera wrote in an email Friday.
In both cases, Bongiovanni spotted a red Acura Integra with a burned out brake light driven by Hollins. In August, he pulled the Acura over after running the tag and discovering the car’s registration was suspended. This week, the car had no tag and Bongiovanni pulled over Hollins after he changed lanes three times without signaling.
Bongiovanni smelled marijuana when he approached the car in both cases and called for backup, the reports say.
When Bongiovanni told Hollins last August that he was under arrest for not having a driver’s license and asked him to step out of the car, Hollins became hysterical, Bongiovanni wrote then. At one point, Hollins reached under a seat where officers later found a gun. As he got out of the car, Hollins hit the gear shift and the car began to roll, forcing McDonald to chase the car, jump inside and pull the emergency brake.
Hollins resisted arrest and yelled about wanting to call his mother before the officers were eventually able to get him into the patrol truck, Bongiovanni wrote in August.
During Wednesday’s stop, the report says, Hollins again yelled “I need to call my mom” when Bongiovanni explained why he’d pulled him over. That triggered Bongiovanni’s memory of the August arrest, and he decided to call for backup, according to the report.
It says Hollins initially put his hands up as Bongiovanni pulled him from the car and that Bongiovanni turned Hollins and tried to pin him between the door and the car. Bongiovanni wrote Hollins refused to put his hands behind his back and actively resisted. But police say the video contradicts that, showing Hollins exiting the car with both hands up and Bongiovanni hitting him in the face as Hollins stands with his hands still up.
The report also says that when Hollins tried to push Bongiovanni away, the officer used his stun gun on Hollins and then swept his feet from under him with his leg. When Hollins tried to get up, Bongiovanni used the stun gun on him again and was then able to handcuff him, it adds.
Hollins appears to have blood on his nose and lip in his booking photo.
Police said the officers are both white, and police reports say Hollins is black.
Hollins told NBC News he was trying to launch the camera app on his phone because he recalled his previous encounter with Bongiovanni.
“He start(ed) shoving me in my car and telling me that I was never going to have a video, that I was never going to make the phone call to my mom,” he said in the television interview. “When I had my hands up, that’s when he punched me in the face.”