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Philly police say Inspector Joseph Bologna is suspended ‘with intent to dismiss,’ hours after a new accusation of excessive force

The account of Bologna twisting a handcuffed protester's fingers so hard she feared they would break is the third accusation against the embattled inspector.

Philadelphia police Staff Inspector Joseph Bolonga, left, watches Shoshana Akins, in pink bandanna, as she is detained by police at a protest last Monday. Akins said Bologna twisted her fingers, to the point she feared they would break, while she was detained and in handcuffs.
Philadelphia police Staff Inspector Joseph Bolonga, left, watches Shoshana Akins, in pink bandanna, as she is detained by police at a protest last Monday. Akins said Bologna twisted her fingers, to the point she feared they would break, while she was detained and in handcuffs.Read moreErin Marhefka

Joseph Bologna Jr., the high-ranking Philadelphia police official charged with assaulting a protester during demonstrations last week, has been suspended “with intent to dismiss,” Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw announced Tuesday.

The department’s one-line early evening statement didn’t specify the reasons behind the decision, but a spokesperson later clarified it was a procedural move taken when any officer is charged with a crime.

The announcement came a day after Bologna, a 31-year veteran of the force, was arraigned on charges connected to the beating of a Temple University student, and hours after The Inquirer published an account from another protester who alleged that Bologna assaulted her after she was arrested that day.

In an interview, Shoshana Akins, 31, said Bologna twisted her fingers so badly — after she had been restrained at the June 1 protest — that she feared he would break them.

The injuries to her hands so alarmed other officers, she said, that they asked a National Guard member to cut off the zip ties binding her wrists, Akins said.

» READ MORE: Live coverage of Tuesday's protests: Mayor Kenney promises police reform

Bologna “systematically went along each of my fingers to twist them at a 90-degree angle to break them,” she said. “He went down all my bottom knuckles, and he started on my top knuckles, and he did this in about 20 seconds. So fast.”

Akins’ account is the third to emerge accusing Bologna of an overly aggressive response while policing protests over the death of George Floyd last week.

Her story has drawn attention from investigators in a case that has exacerbated the tense relationship between District Attorney Larry Krasner and the city’s police union.

» READ MORE: Read the criminal complaint charging Philly police inspector Joseph Bologna with assaulting a protester

Bologna’s charges stem from the alleged assault of student protester Evan Gorski the same day as Akins’ encounter. A second account involving a video that showed Bologna tackling a demonstrator near 10th and Market Streets a day later after she tapped the wheel of his bike has also drawn scrutiny from prosecutors.

Bologna’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday about the new accusations from Akins or Outlaw’s intention to force the inspector out of the department. He has maintained that his client always acted within the Police Department’s policies for use of force.

A police spokesperson said the department was unaware of Akins’ account and encouraged her to file a complaint with Internal Affairs, though she said that she had told police about the incident when she was booked at district headquarters.

Akins’ alleged assault was not caught on video, unlike the prior two incidents. But video of the protest that day, viewed by The Inquirer, shows the inspector standing closely behind her after her hands were zip-tied and as she awaited transport to a police district for booking.

» READ MORE: Philly Police Inspector Joseph Bologna applauded by fellow officers as he surrenders on charges of assaulting a protester

Another demonstrator arrested that day supported Akins’ account of the extent of the injuries to her hands once she was loaded aboard a police van. When Akins got in the van, her hands were turning blue, said Carmen Perry, 26.

“She said she thought some of her fingers might be broken,” Perry said.

» READ MORE: Who is Joseph Bologna? Officer charged with beating Temple student has a checkered and charmed past

Akins, a participation planner at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission with a master’s degree in public health from Drexel University, has participated in racial justice marches in the city for years. She said she had no idea who Bologna was until after she got home and recognized him from some of the other videos circulating online showing his aggressive encounters with demonstrators.

Akins said she was nearly clipped by a squad car while trying to catch up with marchers around 4:30 p.m. on June 1 just north of City Hall. Within seconds, she said, officers on bike patrol surrounded her, crashed their bikes into hers, moved to restrain her, and took her bag to search it. She said she tried to remain calm as officers yelled at her and bound her hands with zip-ties so tight she could feel her circulation fading.

Then Bologna came up behind her and began twisting her fingers back, she said.

“That’s when I thought, ‘I need help, and I can’t get it from this guy,’" she said. The worry going through her mind: "He knows how to do this, he knows how to hurt people, and how to hurt them in a way that no one can see.”

The video of the encounter, filmed from a distance, shows Bologna standing closely behind Akins, but from the vantage point of the videographer, it is impossible to tell if he is doing anything to her hands.

Akins said that when she was placed in a police van with two other demonstrators, they were so horrified by her battered hands, they begged two officers to loosen her restraints. The officers reacted with alarm and tried to remove the zip ties, said Perry, one of the other protesters in the van.

Eventually, it took a member of the National Guard with a knife to cut them off, Perry said, and even hours after they arrived at the police district for booking, Akins still had deep grooves in her skin from where the ties had cut into her wrists.

Akins was issued a code violation for failing to disperse and released.

» READ MORE: 'Police just went nuts': Charges dropped after video surfaces of police beating student, other protesters with batons

She said she never saw Bologna’s name tag or badge. But as she watched videos of police interactions with protesters she recognized his face and his distinctive, raspy voice.

Days later, she said, she still has no feeling from the middle of her forearms to the base of her thumbs in both hands. She believes some of her fingers may be broken, but she has put off a hospital visit out of concern of being exposed to COVID-19.

She did consult a doctor through telemedicine who warned her to monitor her fingers and pulse for nerve damage, and ordered her to go to the emergency room if her condition worsened.

Outlaw and Krasner continue to pursue complaints involving Bologna as part of separate investigations.

Akins said she’d been contacted by Krasner’s office about the incident. And she said she had not considered speaking publicly about the incident until she saw the videos of other demonstrators.

“As someone who works in public health and justice work, I knew this is what happened to black and brown people every day, even when there’s not a huge protest,” she said. “And the small taste that I got, I can’t believe this has systematically been going on in our country for this long.”