The recent case in Gwinnett County, Georgia, involving the firing of two officers , is troubling in many ways. The incident shows why we need body cameras on all police officers in this country, and it also shows the absolute need for citizens to vigilantly record police encounters.
Sergant Michael Bongiovanni stopped Demetrius Hollins for a minor traffic violation. According to Bongiovanni’s incident report, Hollins was so uncooperative that he (Bongiovanni) tasered Hollins. A citizen witness videotaped a second officer, Robert McDonald, stomping on Hollins’ head after Hollins was lying on the ground handcuffed. McDonald was summarily fired by the Gwinnett County Police Department.
Later, a second video surfaced which showed what had actually happened before McDonald arrived on scene: Hollins was out of his car, both hands raised, when Bongiovanni punched him in the face, knocking him down. There was absolutely no justification, at least by viewing the video, that any reasonable person could say Bongiovanni acted properly. In fact, what we see is a crime, either of simple battery, but more than likely a felony of aggravated assault.
It sickens me that an officer would act this way, but more than that, it sickens me that Bongiovanni would lie in his report, not only throwing McDonald under the bus, but lying to save his own hide.
I am saddened by this incident. On the whole most Gwinnett officers are professional and do their jobs. But there are 2 really important lessons that come from this incident:
- Police must do a better job “policing” their own. Over his 17 year career, Bongiovanni had numerous “use of force” complaints, all of which had been dismissed by GCPD. When there are numerous use of force complaints filed by average citizens, that should be a red flag causing police supervisors to more closely scrutinize the officer.
- This incident once again undermines the trust we have in our police and in our criminal justice system. And when the citizenry loses trust in its institutions, the entire system is in danger of breaking down.
The Gwinnett solicitor, Rosanna Szabo, dismissed 89 cases involving arrests made by Bongiovanni and McDonald. Good for her; there is no way the officers credibility, especially Bongiovanni, would have been believed by any fair minded, reasonable juror.
In our criminal justice system, the “players”: police, judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers, all have roles to play. All are considered “officers” of the court. ALL are, and should be, held to higher ethical standards than the citizen not engaged in the criminal justice system. When any of these people act in an unethical manner, it undermines the very foundation of a fair, balanced system, and those unethical actions must be punished accordingly.