Fired Philadelphia police inspector Joseph Bologna Jr., who was arrested last summer for beating a Temple University student with a baton at George Floyd protests, was cleared of criminal charges Friday after a judge tossed out his case at a preliminary hearing.
Municipal Court Judge Henry Lewandowski III ruled that the District Attorney’s Office had not presented enough evidence to establish that Bologna’s use of his baton against Evan Gorski — captured on video — amounted to a crime.
Bologna’s attorneys were quick to cast the decision as a “great victory.” And leaders in the police union — which had fervently backed Bologna since his arrest — also cheered the ruling, saying Bologna had been unfairly villainized over the incident and its fallout.
“Cops have been getting dirt kicked in their face for the last eight months for doing their job,” said John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5. “This is just one step in vindicating not only Joe, but the entire Police Department.”
District Attorney Larry Krasner, who has the option to refile the charges against Bologna, said his office plans to do so “very soon.”
“Philadelphians require equal treatment under the law, and that means police accountability has to be real,” he said.
Bologna’s case, initially filed in June, became a near-immediate flashpoint in the discussion over police reform that peaked last year during demonstrations over Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police.
Police first arrested Gorski, a Temple engineering student, and held him in custody for more than 40 hours on allegations that he had assaulted a police officer during protests on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
But Krasner’s office dropped those charges and moved to charge Bologna instead after a video quickly spread across social media showing him striking Gorski as a group of officers confronted a crowd.
Krasner said in a statement at the time that he had reviewed parts of the case himself, including the video, and he characterized his decision to pursue charges against Bologna including aggravated assault as an example of his commitment to evenhanded justice. Gorski’s attorney said at the time that he had been treated for injuries that required 10 staples to his head.
But the case drew fierce opposition from many within the Police Department, who said Bologna, 54, was a dedicated officer doing a dangerous job in a tense situation, and that he had struck Gorski in the shoulder with his baton, not the head, as Krasner has stated and The Inquirer reported.
“Policing isn’t pretty,” McNesby said at the time. “We had a riot situation going on.”
The morning Bologna surrendered to face charges, more than 100 officers gathered outside of union headquarters to show their support, and the union later sold T-shirts emblazoned with “Bologna Strong.”
Bologna’s attorneys, Brian McMonagle and Fortunato Perri Jr., echoed that sentiment Friday outside the Stout Center for Criminal Justice — blasting prosecutors for filing what they contend was a weak case that had not been properly investigated, and saying it had resulted in “destruction of [Bologna’s] life and his career.”
“He was a frontline worker trying to protect this community, this city, that he was born in, and everybody who lives here,” McMonagle said. “And all he did that day was do his job.”
During the preliminary hearing, the lawyers said, they called to the witness stand Sgt. Kenneth Gill, a use-of-force expert from the Police Department’s training unit. McMonagle said he testified that Bologna’s use of his baton “was completely lawful and reasonable,” and that “the use of force in this case was absolutely justified.”
Perri said Gorski also testified, and “admitted under oath” that he had “intervened” when police were attempting to make an arrest.
Attempts to reach Gorski after the hearing were unsuccessful. His attorney, Jonathan Feinberg, declined to comment on the hearing’s outcome.
McMonagle said video of the incident was played in court, “and it was slowed, and it showed conclusively that Gorski was never struck in the head” by the baton.
Krasner’s office maintains that Bologna hit Gorski in the head.
After the hearing, Bologna hugged family members and friends and left the courthouse without commenting. McMonagle said he was “just too emotional to speak.”
McMonagle said he was not sure whether Bologna, a 31-year veteran of the Police Department, might seek to get his job back.
McNesby criticized Krasner’s office, the news media, and The Inquirer, saying they had “literally ruined this guy’s life.” He said Bologna likely needed time to discuss the situation with his family before making a decision on whether to try to return to the force.