Victim of Gwinnett traffic stop: It felt 'like I would never see my mom again'

The two officers were fired after videos surfaced from the incident.

"It was like I would never see my mom again; I would never see anybody again," said Demetrius Hollins, reflecting back on the moment after he had been kicked in the head by Gwinnett County Police Officer Robert McDonald. A now-viral video captured the moment, which showed Hollins handcuffed, face down on a roadway Wednesday evening.

Hollins spoke exclusively to NBC News' Gabe Gutierrez late Thursday night, after videos showing the assault by McDonald and an additional assault by Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni during a traffic stop emerged on social media. Both officers were terminated by the department after the videos surfaced.

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Hollins said that when his car was at a stop light, Sgt. Bongiovanni initiated the traffic stop. Hollins said that his car had stalled, and while he did not try to restart it, he did, however, attempt to reach for his phone and launch his camera app in order to record the interaction. He said he realized that he had encountered Bongiovanni previously, and wanted to protect himself.

"And when I was trying to get video evidence, that's when he starts 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, and that's when he stepped out of the car, and that's when he drew his Taser at me," Hollins said. "He told me to step out of the car. And that's when I stepped out of the car with my hands up, and when I had my hands up, that's when he -- uh -- punched me in the face."

That punch was caught in a second video that was released later Thursday -- a short, 10-second clip that was initially posted to Snapchat before it went viral on Twitter, Facebook and news sites everywhere.

That video showed Hollins stepping out of the car, his hands raised, and Bongiovanni holding what appeared to be a weapon pointed at him. The officer appears to holster the apparent weapon long enough to slug Hollins in the face, full-on.

RAW INTERVIEW | Demetrius Hollins speaks with NBC News

Hollins recounts what happened next.

"With him punching me in my face, that's when he stepped back again, and that's when he shot me in the back with his Taser," Hollins said. "That's when I fell to the ground."

The rest of the traffic stop was captured by another video, which was actually surfaced first Thursday morning. In it, the sound of the Taser being deployed could be heard, followed by Hollins' screams.

In the video, which shows the confrontation from behind, Hollins can be seen falling to the ground, and Bongiovanni appears to roll him toward the middle of a turning lane to the left of the vehicle.

"I'll yield! I'll yield!" Hollins can be heard on the video, screaming in apparent compliance to Bongiovanni's presumed commands, which are not readily audible over the noise of traffic at the intersection.

"When I was on the ground, he continued to taze me, and that's when he -- uh -- stopped," Hollins said. "That's when he put on the handcuffs."

"How scared were you?" asked Gutierrez.

"Scared," Hollins said. "On a scale of 1-to-10 -- say 20."

Just after Sgt. Bongiovanni leaned over to handcuff Hollins, Officer McDonald arrived on the scene. As the senior officer stood from putting the handcuffs on Hollins, McDonald ran over and kicked Hollins in the head.

"That's when another cop came out of nowhere and stomped me in the face," Hollins said.

"Did you think he was going to do that when he was running toward you," said Gutierrez. "Or was that a complete shock?"

"No, I didn't think he was going to do that," Hollins said. "I thought he was going (to) just come over there and just ask the officer if he needed help or anything like that."

"Have you seen any of those videos?" Gutierrez asked.

"It's actually very difficult," Hollins replied. "Seeing that I'm getting manhandled, not just -- how could I say this? Assaulted. And nobody could do anything about it -- and what if that had happened to somebody else if they was in my shoes?"

PHOTOS | Officers fired after traffic stop

Hollins' mom, Tamara Crenshaw, harbors the same fear that all mothers face -- watching her child being hurt and not being able to do anything about it.

"And the media just kept replaying it and playing it over again," she said. "I just didn't want to see it anymore. (I) just wanted to get to him."

"Why do you think someone would do this?" Gutierrez asked.

"I have absolutely no clue on why they would do something like this. It's dehumanizing," she said. "I have no words to explain it. I don't know what the reason he did for a routine traffic stop to escalate this."

Attorney Justin Miller pointed out that without video, the officers would have gotten away with what they were doing.

"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 and acceptable in our community -- and it's not," Miller said. "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."

Both officers were terminated shortly after the videos came to light. The Gwinnett County court system also threw out all 87 cases involving McDonald and Bongiovanni, including a this case and previous one between Hollins and Bongiovanni that happened last year. In that instance, Hollins was arrested and charged with obstructing law enforcement and possession of marijuana.

"I really wouldn't be sitting here if it wasn't for you, or for these people that actually put out that footage of me actually getting assaulted,' Hollins said. "All I can say is thank you, because I can't do anything more than say thank you."

Hollins is attending college and says he wants to become a film producer.

© 2017 WXIA-TV


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