• By Lt. Tim McMillan

Officer Who Hit Motorist in the Face Appeals to Get His Job Back...

It took less than 24 hours for the Gwinnett County Police to fire two of their officers, after two separate viral videos showed one of the officers punching and kicking a motorist on April 12, 2017. The first video to hit the airwaves captured Officer Robert McDonald kicking the 21-year-old driver in the face as he lay on the ground and hands behind his back in handcuffs. The following video released by a second bystander appeared to show Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni punching that same motorist in the face, moments before the kick, as he removed the driver from the vehicle.

For Gwinnett County Police Chief “Butch” Ayers, the two videos contained all of the damaging information he needed. Chief Ayers swiftly fired both officers, and publicly said he was disturbed by what he had seen in the videos.

The overwhelming collective of law enforcement professionals and the public alike praised the Gwinnett County Police’s rapid handling of the incident. For many cops, who have become accustomed to seeing concerning behavior captured on video, and then feeling compelled to champion the paradigmatic phrase, “we don’t know all the facts,” GCPD’s quick response was somewhat of a sigh of relief. It is problematic in itself that the typical cop feels obligated to maintain indifference towards blatant displays of police misbehavior. However, that is a topic for another article. Instead, this story was not one that forced anyone to feel like their disdain exhibited a lack of support for cops. Rather, one could comfortably stand-up against the misdeeds of former cops.

The entire event was far from Chicken Soup for The Soul. However, the resolution, complete with promises of pending criminal charges against the former officers, appeared to be as satisfying as one could expect from any story that starts with words police brutality.

Of course, nine days after the initial traffic stop, someone just had to ensure that the entire moderately palatable event tasted like a full on s%#@ sandwich. That, someone, was the recently disgraced 19-year veteran Gwinnett County Sergeant, Michael Bongiovanni. Well more specifically, his attorney Mike Puglise.

On April 21st, Puglise told the Atlanta Journal of Constitution, his client had formally appealed his termination, and he was, “confident Bongiovanni’s appeal will be successful.”

I’m going to be honest here. A part of me is amused and yet simultaneously impressed by Mr. Puglise. Puglise, himself was a police officer for years, before obtaining his Juris Doctorate and practicing law full-time. However, this isn’t what intrigues me about the attorney’s immediate cause. Rather it is Puglise’s rationale behind why he is so poised that his client will soon be donning a badge and gun for GCPD again. His justifications cause me to have a degree of veneration for the counselor. Frankly, he strikes me as the type of guy who will have a hard 18 showing in Blackjack and then tell the dealer too, “hit me.”

The reasoning for appealing Bongiovanni’s termination is based on a series of eccentric claims. For starters, the attorney points out that what looked like a punch was actually an elbow strike, “an FBI-taught defensive tactic.” Puglise is correct here. Indeed, if one pays attention when they watch the video, they will note that it is undeniably an elbow/forearm strike that is delivered and not an archetypal punch to the face.

With that said, all force used by law enforcement officers must be justifiable under the standard of objective reasonableness established by the Supreme Court. So what the justification for going for the elbow strike on the motorist? The attorney explains that the officer wanted to, “turn (the driver) around to see if he had a gun.” Now again, if one watches the video, they will note that Bongiovanni does indeed immediately spin the driver around and appear to check his lower back area, a place that is common for individuals to carry firearms. Suddenly, I’m sitting up straight in my chair. Tell me more, Mr. Puglise.

Remember, even if Bongiovanni wanted to check to see if the driver was armed, he still had to justify the necessity of using force. Luckily, his attorney doesn’t leave us hanging. Puglise says, “(Bongiovanni) did not understand the situation he was dealing with. He (the driver) was not obeying commands.” Ok, ok, ok, I’ll play your silly game here. Since we don’t have any, body camera or dash camera footage, all we can assume is that the commands that the young man failed to comply with did not happen include putting his hands in the air, in the symbolic gesture of surrender, since that is what he was doing just prior to the strike.

So now thanks to the former Sergeant’s attorney, we have a new perspective of the entire event. However, now comes real question. Did the dealer draw a three or lower, or is this defense for the actions seen on the video about to be a bust? Let’s be honest; a hard 18 isn’t a sure thing winner. That is why there is some excitement over a player that will cavalierly refuse to stand.

Well, the first indication that things aren’t going to be as smooth as the attorney has once led us to believe comes when he makes a claim to the AJC reporter that, “They became political pawns.” See the problem here, is that saying, “they” would indicate that not only does the former Sergeant have a legitimate defense of his elbow strike, but also the other ex-officer, McDonald is also a victim of a zealous social-justice mob. Just so we are clear, that means that people are unreasonably unfair to suggest that kicking someone in the face while their hands are cuffed behind their back is not cool. Hmm…

Ok, let’s pretend that “they” actually was referring to just Sgt. Bongiovanni. For all we know, the former Sergeant speaks of himself in the third person when he goes into the clinch. Now we are contentedly perched in this mythical place, what exactly did Sgt. Bongiovanni have to say about why he delivered the people’s elbow to the young man? Oh that’s right! He doesn’t! He actually never reported the use of force. Now when I say, he never reported it, I mean that in the sense that he never put it in his police report. He never filled out a use-of-force report. He never even mentioned the strike to internal affairs investigators.

Now, if you are like me, you’re probably thinking, there is no way that someone can make a legit argument for why a police officer would violently hit someone in the face, and then decide never to mention it. Lest we forget, at one point the video of the officer kicking the motorist has already gone viral. Basically, this is a HUGE story at this point. Well, I’ll have you know that you and I both would be wrong. Indeed, Puglise drew an Ace, doubles down and with a degree of swagger that now makes one’s face turn from amused to disturbed, he tells the dealer, “hit me.”

Or to be exact, the attorney says, “It did not dawn on him that what he did was a punishable offense.” Wait…What? No, seriously, what?

I don’t know how many police reports I’ve completed in my career. I would guestimate it would be well in the thousands. Now, in every one of those reports I included countless numbers of details. However, I truthfully don’t think I ever added a single element to a police report in which the deciding factor for its inclusion was dependent on if I could be punished for it. Maybe I’m crazy, and if that’s the case, I apologize to everyone. However, I typically always think it’s important to ensure you include important stuff in police reports like facts, particulars that are germane to the incident, oh yeah…and, violently elbowing someone in the face. Yeah, elbow strikes to the face would definitely be included on my “must include” list for my police reports. The stuff that is usually overlooked as being unimportant to document, include the mundane things, like, “I heard birds chirping in the distance.” We cannot possibly be expected to believe that the former Sergeant’s typical day included elbowing so many people to the face that it was an easily overlooked detail. “Oh, the elbow to the face? I thought you guys only wanted to hear about the important stuff.”

Sorry, counselor the house is holding TNT with a pair of dimes in this round. We need not even get into the debate regarding the legitimacy of the elbow strike because your client is a liar. It doesn’t matter what he achieved or didn’t achieve up to this point in his 19-year career. The moment he failed to disclose that he had struck that young man in the head, both in reports and in interviews with investigators, he became deceitful. He willfully and intentionally gave away the most valuable resource that any cop can have, and that is his integrity. Chief Ayers said it himself, “(Bongiovanni) had the opportunity to tell us what happened in the report and when he was interviewed by internal affairs. He said nothing about a punch.” Shhhhhh… don’t you even try to pipe up with, “But did you ask him about the elbow strike!” You know full and well that the nobility of law enforcement is solely dependent on the ethical discernment of the men and women that wear the uniform. In this incident, the former Sergeant demonstrated an alarming lack of moral character. He held some of the most significant power and authority that any one person could be officially granted. The power to take one’s freedom or even their life. The amount of respect he showed for that authority, was to lie.

The world is filled with moral inequities. So it is not as if Sgt. Bongiovanni’s actions will make the highlight reel for the disgraceful acts of 2017. Heck, with half the world, a little concerned about the prospect of thermonuclear war, this event probably barely still registers with most of us. Furthermore, no person amongst us has not made a mistake in their lives. Not a single one of us, have never failed to do what was right at some point and time. However, there is equally no person in existence that ever overcame their failings by refusing to acknowledge them. Forgiveness is never impossible for an individual who desires to be forgiven. By accepting our failures, we can experience the pain that comes with its losses. Because ultimately there is no better motivator to succeed than the pain of failure.

At the end of the day, toss in your cards, learn from your loss, and then be willing to tell life to deal you in again. However, as cruel as the reality may feel, it is in the best interest of the entire embodiment of truth, justice, and law enforcement that you find a new table to sit at for your next round in life. The law enforcement table is no longer reserved for you. This table is far greater than any one of us sitting at it and because of your actions, your time here has come to an end.

Tim McMillan is a retired police lieutenant and investigative intelligence analyst; and holds BA's in mathematics and cognitive psychology. Primarily, focusing on the Defense and Intelligence Communities, he now uses his unique background, coupled with a willingness to examine any mystery, to deliver groundbreaking investigative reporting. Tim is a contributor for The War Zone, Vice, and Popular Mechanics

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© Lieutenant Tim McMillan All Rights Reserved by The Raziel Group LLC