Last April, a traffic stop in Gwinnett County of Demetrius Hollins, 21-year-old African American man, led to the arrest of two Gwinnett County Police Officers. The arrest was videoed and posted on social media, and as a result, the two arresting officers were arrested. The videos show Master Officer Robert McDonald pointing his gun at Hollins. They also show Sargent Michael Bongiovanni kicking Hollins in the face while he was lying on the ground in handcuffs and striking Hollins in the head while he had both his hands up.
Both of the officers were arrested as soon as the videos showed up on social media. They were initially charged with multiple counts of violation of oath of office, false writing, and battery. Now as a result of Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office, they are facing a new count of aggravated assault. The case will be presented on February 28th to a grand jury. Although McDonald is the one who pointed the gun at Hollins, Bongiovanni is charged as a party to the crime.
Let's analyze what a party to a crime charge looks like and what Bongiovanni will be facing if indicted…
The Georgia Code defines Party to a Crime as: “…every person concerned in the commission of a crime is a party thereto and may be charged with and convicted of commission of the crime.” O.C.G.A. §16-2-20. This means that because of Bongiovanni's alleged involvement in the aggravated assault conducted by McDonald, he is being charged with aggravated assault as well.
What does it mean to be “concerned in the commission of a crime?” There are a few different explanations. First, if someone directly commits a crime, then he or she is concerned in the commission of the crime. Second, if someone indirectly causes another person (who is not guilty because of legal incapacity) to commit a crime, then he or she is concerned in the commission of the crime. Third, if someone intentionally advises, encourages, hires, or counsels another to commit a crime, then he or she is concerned in the commission of the crime. And fourth, if someone intentionally aids or abets in the commission of a crime, then he or she is concerned in the commission of the crime.
Georgia Courts have defined aid as to give help or assistance and abet as to encourage or incite. Unlike other states that have laws on accessories, Georgia law is broader. If you are involved in a crime in any significant way, then you are charged and prosecuted as if you are the principal offender. Other states have accessory before the fact, accessory during, or accessory after the fact. This means that other states have different levels of culpability depending on what you did before, during, or after the commission of the crime. In Georgia, our law pulls anyone in who is involved and holds them equally culpable. So this means that Bongiovanni is allegedly equally culpable for aggravated assault.
By definition of Georgia Code, O.C.G.A. § 16-5-21, "A person commits the offense of aggravated assault when he or she assaults with intent to murder, to rape, or to rob, with a deadly weapon or with any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury, with any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in strangulation, or a person or persons without legal justification by discharging a firearm from within a motor vehicle toward a person or persons."
But what is so abnormal about a police officer pointing a gun at a suspect? Gwinnett County District Attorney explains it best by saying, “He was pointing a gun at someone who was handcuffed and on the ground and, according to a witness, put the gun to his head. Officers point guns at people all the time. But they have to be justified in doing it.”
An aggravated assault conviction is a felony. Penalties for aggravated assault in Georgia can include imprisonment for anywhere between one to twenty years and restitution to the victim. As a result of the party to a crime charge faced by Bongiovanni, he is facing the aggravated assault charge as well.