GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — After hours of deliberations, a jury has found a former Gwinnett County officer guilty of assaulting a handcuffed man by kicking him in the head while he was on the ground. The decision was unanimous.
Robert McDonald was found guilty of aggravated assault, battery and violating his oath of office.
He was accused of kicking Demetrius Hollins in the head and then pointing a gun at the man's head following the traffic stop in 2017. The arrest was caught on video.
But the former officer's defense attorney said McDonald's sergeant used him as a scapegoat following the incident and lied in police reports about what happened.
Two cell phone clips captured portions of the incident.The first showed Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni hitting Hollins in the face with his forearm.
"Sgt. Bongiovanni," defense attorney Walt Britt called him in court, "is the one that set these events into motion."
Britt said Bongiovanni caused all of the injuries Hollins suffered during the stop. Hollins' attorney told 11Alive last summer the man has suffered lingering effects from the incident, including trouble finding a job.
"Because he hit that man just as hard as he could with his forearm," Britt told the jury during his closing argument.
McDonald's attorney told the jury prosecutors previously charged Bongiovanni with battery, assault and crimes related to lying in police reports. Bongiovanni though later took a plea deal to avoid prison time in exchange for his testimony in the case.
"You can't base a verdict on anything that man said, or anything that man did, or anything that man supposedly did, because he lied," Britt said.
In her closing argument, prosecutor Charissa Henrich didn't deny any of the actions Bongiovanni is accused of taking but did say McDonald made his own missteps during the traffic stop.
"It doesn't negate that he is the one that put the gun to Mr. Hollins' head. Don't let him skate because of Bongiovanni," Henrich told the jury.
Prosecutors have pointed to the video, which shows McDonald kicking Hollins in the face as he laid largely flat and still, angled back looking up at Bongiovanni. They've also examined his past training and record as an officer.
"Where in any of this training... is any training about kicking somebody in the head?" he was asked when he took the stand.
"None as far as I know," he answered.
Asked to repeat that, speaking into the microphone to project it louder for the court, he said: "None as far as I can remember."
McDonald also testified during the trial that he didn't see Hollins was already handcuffed and was trying to use his foot to pin Hollins to the ground so that he could handcuff him.
Henrich on Wednesday reminded the jury several witnesses were able to see the handcuffs on Hollins.
"There is a man in handcuffs on the ground. You don't need to do this," she said. "It violated all his training, the policies, and state law. The victim thought he was going to die with a gun to his head."
The state asked for McDonald to be taken in to custody until he is sentenced, however, the judge declined. McDonald will be sentenced on a later date.
Following the verdict, Britt said although they were disappointed with the verdict, they respect the jury's verdict - but plan to appeal the decision.
"There will be an appeal based on the matter because we think there were significant errors made by the trial judge," Britt told 11Alive's Joe Henke after court concluded.