ATLANTA -- Two Georgia police officers were fired Thursday, a day after authorities say one punched a man who had his hands up and the other kicked the man in the head once he was handcuffed on the ground.
The Gwinnett County Police Department said Thursday afternoon that Master Police Officer Robert McDonald violated department policy and the law. Video showed McDonald assaulting the handcuffed man, identified as Demetrius Bryan Hollins, while assisting a supervisor who had called for backup during a traffic stop about 4 p.m. Wednesday, police said.
Several hours later, police said that supervisor, Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni, had also been fired after a second video surfaced of him punching Hollins in the face as Hollins put his hands in the air.
“We acknowledge that the actions of these two officers have implications that will be felt for some time,” a police department statement says. “However, we also believe that our decisive action in terminating both officers speaks volumes about what is expected of each officer that wears a Gwinnett County Police badge.”
“I’m literally sick about it,” County Police Chief Butch Ayers said at a news conference reported by CBS Atlanta affiliate WGCL-TV. “Literally sick.”
The department also has opened criminal investigations into the behavior of the two officers. The results will be turned over to the county district attorney, who will decide whether to prosecute them.
McDonald was hired by the department in August 2013 and graduated from the police academy in March 2014, while Bongiovanni was hired in September 1998 and graduated from the academy in February 1999.
No working number could be found for McDonald, and the voicemail at a number listed for Bongiovanni was full. It wasn’t immediately clear whether either man had an attorney who could comment.
Bongiovanni pulled Hollins over in Lawrenceville, just outside Atlanta, police said.
Video filmed by a witness shows Bongiovanni punching Hollins as Hollins stands with his hands up after getting out of the car, police said.
The other video shows Bongiovanni appearing to yell at a handcuffed man who then lies face-down in a left-turn lane of the busy intersection. McDonald runs up and immediately appears to stomp on the man’s head before both officers eventually pull him to his feet.
Hollins, 21, appears to have blood on his nose and lip in his booking photo.
The shift commander initiated an “immediate investigation” and placed McDonald on administrative leave after Hollins’ arrest.
Hollins was driving a red Acura Integra with no license plate and a brake light that didn’t work, and switched lanes three times without signaling, according to an incident report filed by Bongiovanni.
Hollins yelled and began to “act strange,” and based on that and the officer’s recollection of Hollins’ behavior during a previous arrest in August, Bongiovanni called for backup, the report says.
Hollins yelled and refused to obey orders when Bongiovanni ordered him out of the car and resisted when Bongiovanni tried to arrest him, the report says. There is no mention of Bongiovanni hitting Hollins.
The report mentions McDonald arriving after Bongiovanni had used his stun gun on Hollins and gotten him handcuffed on the ground. It doesn’t mention any contact between McDonald and Hollins.
The two officers are white and Hollins appears to be black, police Cpl. Michele Pihera said in an email.
Jail records show Hollins faces charges of driving with a suspended or revoked license, operating a vehicle with a suspended or revoked registration, failure to signal, having a brake light that’s not in good repair, obstructing a law enforcement officer and having less than an ounce of marijuana. He was released on bond Thursday afternoon.
“All I could say is, I wish this never happened to me,” he remarked to reporters, including one from WGCL.
Police released McDonald’s personnel file Thursday, and Bongiovanni’s was to be released.
McDonald was “an excellent example of a team player with a strong work ethic” who completed his work on time, was always willing to help others and was courteous and professional with the public, Bongiovanni wrote in annual evaluation last June. He gave McDonald a rating of “often exceeds expectations” in many categories and no rating lower than “generally meets expectations.”
McDonald received a few commendations and recognitions, including sharing the officer of the month honor in November 2015.
He had filed three use-of-force reports explaining why he used his stun gun or physical force in the course of his duties.
He faced a disciplinary loss of his good driving record after he rear-ended another car in his patrol car in June 2015. But the officer who responded to the accident said in a letter to the department’s safety review committee that it would have been very difficult for McDonald to avoid the wreck.
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