By Claudia Lauer
A Philadelphia officer faces aggravated assault charges after video surfaced of him striking a student protester in the head with a metal baton, District Attorney Larry Krasner said Friday night.
Police Staff Inspector Joseph Bologna has also been charged with reckless endangerment and possession of an instrument of crime.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw had said earlier Friday that the officer had been taken off street duty during the investigation.
Video circulating widely on Twitter shows Bologna hitting a 21-year-old Temple University student in the head and neck area with a baton, before the student is knocked to the ground and another officer put his knee on him to keep him down.
Jonathan Feinberg, an attorney representing the protester, Evan Gorski, said Friday that the engineering student was at home recovering from his injuries after being in custody for almost 40 hours earlier this week.
Gorski needed about 10 staples and 10 stitches to close his wound, Krasner’s office said.
Outlaw said her agency was reviewing videos that showed police officers in violent confrontations with people protesting the death of George Floyd.
Lawyers, protesters, legal observers and a handful of activist organizations have strongly criticized multiple instances of police use of force during the protests, many recorded by reporters or posted on social media. A confrontation Monday involving officers firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who had gotten on to Interstate 676 and were trying to retreat up a steep embankment has drawn national attention.
Outlaw said she had seen several of the videos and while some of the use of force seemed to be within department policy, some were “disturbing.”
“I am deeply concerned about this, and as a result I have initiated several concurrent internal affairs investigations,” Outlaw said.
Prosecutors used the video of Bologna to decline charges against Gorski.
Feinberg said it was his understanding that Gorski was initially arrested Monday on allegations he had assaulted an officer and somehow injured him, but the district attorney’s office declined to file charges against him.
In one video, a group of protesters can be seen engaging with bicycle officers in a grassy area near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Monday night. It was unclear what caused the interaction to escalate, but Gorski is seen reaching out to separate another protester from the officer’s grip before he is struck.
“It happened in broad daylight, with hundreds if not thousands of people around,” Feinberg said. “This officer had to know what he was doing was observable… to everyone who was there, and he did it anyway.”
John McNesby, president of the FOP 5 Lodge, released a statement Friday night saying the union is “disgusted” by Krasner’s announcement.
A short time before a 6 p.m. curfew took effect Monday, police officers were recorded by reporters, protesters and observers lobbing smoke canisters, tear gas and shooting projectiles later identified as bean bags and “OC pellets” — a type of rubber bullet — at the protesters who were clambering up a steep embankment and over a fence to get off the highway and try to escape the tear gas.
Officers continued to fire even as the protesters retreated.
Outlaw and Mayor Jim Kenney defended the use of tear gas. Outlaw said one of the incidents that led to the use of force was protesters surrounding a state trooper who was alone in his car, rocking it back and forth and vandalizing it.
Trooper William Butler wrote in a short summary that the unnamed trooper became stuck in traffic as it backed up because of protesters. The trooper said a group of protesters surrounded the marked patrol car in traffic and vandalized it.
Butler said the event is still under investigation.
Philadelphia Controller Rebecca Rhynhart announced she also planned to investigate officer actions during the protests. Outlaw issued a memo to officers after the highway clash directing them to radio in any use of force as it occurred, in addition to filing standard written reports. Outlaw said the city has made 759 arrests, including 231 for looting or burglary. Twenty-seven officers have been injured, and one remains hospitalized.
The police union is offering a $10,000 reward that leads to the arrest of three suspects related to the theft of dangerous chemical and oxygen tanks stolen in the city.
Police learned of the thefts last Thursday morning from a business in Northeast Philadelphia.
“These tanks are extremely dangerous if they end up in the wrong hands,” said McNesby. “We need to get these tanks and suspects off the street right away before someone is seriously injured.”