Two Georgia police officers have been fired after videos surfaced on social media showing them punching and then kicking a man in the head, authorities said.
Gwinnett County police said late Thursday that Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni was fired after authorities discovered a video showing Bongiovanni punching the man in the face as the man stepped from a vehicle with his hands up. Earlier, authorities had fired Officer Robert McDonald, who was captured in a different video kicking the man in the head as he lay handcuffed on the ground.
“The revelations uncovered in this entire investigation are shocking,” police said in a statement after Bongiovanni’s termination. “ … We acknowledge that the actions of these two officers have implications that will be felt for some time. 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.”
The incident, which quickly went viral on social media, occurred about 4 p.m. Wednesday. One video, which was shot from across the street, shows a man getting out of a vehicle with his hands raised before the arresting officer punches him in the face.
The other video, shot from a different angle, begins as that officer is struggling with the man as he gets out of the vehicle and raises his hands. Shortly after the man is subdued by the officer and handcuffed, a second officer arrives on the scene and kicks the man in the head.
A struggle ensues before the officers search the man’s pockets. Both officers are white; the man, who is black, was identified as 21-year-old Demetrius Bryan Hollins of Lawrenceville, Ga., according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The nonprofit community group Black Lives Matter of Greater Atlanta condemned the officers Thursday evening in a Facebook post.
Hollins told NBC News that he was trying to get to the camera app on his own cellphone Wednesday to record the encounter. He said one officer started “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. When I had my hands up, that’s when he punched me in the face.”
Hollins told the news station that when he was handcuffed and lying on the ground, “another cop came out of nowhere and stomped me in the face.”
He was charged with multiple traffic citations, obstruction of a police officer and possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
Hollins’s attorney, Justin Miller, told NBC News that had the moment not been captured on video, it may have been overlooked.
“The fact that these guys felt so brazen as to … assault him in public in broad daylight in front of hundreds of onlookers and hundreds of cars is indicative of what they think is okay,” Miller told the news station. Without the videos, he added, “they would have painted him as the bad guy, arrested him, brushed it under the rug and probably did it to them again the next time they saw him.”
Gwinnett County Police Chief Butch Ayers said at a news conference Thursday that McDonald, a three-year veteran on the force, was responding to assist Bongiovanni during a traffic stop when he “got tunnel vision.”
Police said Hollins was pulled over for having a broken taillight and then resisted Bongiovanni. But by the time McDonald arrived, Hollis was on the ground and no longer resisting, Ayers said, noting that no use of force was necessary.
“This incident — this type of force and this action — was uncalled for,” the police chief said Thursday. “It shouldn’t have happened. There is no excuse for it. We have taken appropriate and swift action to deal with this. This officer and his actions do not represent the men and women of this police department who put their lives on the line every single day to protect this county.”
The chief said that the officer apologized for his actions but that the footage still made him angry. “I was upset and it felt like I had been gut-punched,” Ayers said.
During an internal investigation, authorities discovered a second video Thursday, filmed by a witness and posted online, that was “contrary to what was reported by Michael Bongiovanni,” police said in the statement. That video showed Bongiovanni strike the man in the face before the other officer had arrived, police said.
Black Lives Matter of Greater Atlanta also referred to the second video on its Facebook page.
Bongiovanni was hired in 1998 and graduated from the police academy in 1999, according to the police department.
The police chief said during the news conference that a plan is in place to outfit uniformed officers with body cameras by the end of the year.
Asked what message the incident sends, Ayers told reporters: “We have standards, we have policies, and we’re going to hold ourselves to those standards and to those policies. And if you violate those, there will be a swift investigation. And if those complaints are found to be sustained, action will be taken.”
This story has been updated.