A Philadelphia judge on Tuesday approved a request by city prosecutors to reinstate some of the charges they filed against former police commander Joseph Bologna, who was captured on video in spring 2020 striking a Temple University student with a baton at the George Floyd protests in Center City.
The charges against Bologna had been thrown out earlier this year, when another judge ruled at a preliminary hearing that Bologna’s conduct on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway had not amounted to a crime.
But Common Pleas Court Judge Crystal Bryant-Powell on Tuesday reversed part of that decision, ruling that the District Attorney’s Office had presented enough evidence for Bologna to be tried on charges of simple assault and possessing an instrument of crime.
Bryant-Powell dismissed counts of aggravated assault and reckless endangerment. She did not explain her decision.
Still, during the hearing, she questioned Bologna’s attorneys about whether the longtime commander had needed to strike Evan Gorski, a Temple engineering student who was part of a crowd locked in a confrontation with police officers.
Video showed Gorski reaching toward another protester whom Bologna and other officers were trying to arrest. Bryant-Powell said Bologna, who then turned toward Gorski before striking him with his baton, “clearly goes that extra step,” adding that Gorski “clearly retreats,” and “almost cowers down” as Bologna turned toward him.
Bologna’s attorneys declined to comment after the hearing. District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement that he disagreed with Bryant-Powell’s dismissal of the felony aggravated-assault charge, adding: “Because a just resolution of this matter is of great public interest and importance, we will be reviewing our options for the best course forward.”
Bologna’s prosecution had received widespread attention in the wake of the national discussion on police reform that began last year. And controversy around it continued to escalate earlier this year after Municipal Court Judge Henry Lewandowski III dismissed all counts ― a decision that was hailed by many in the police union and criticized by Krasner.
Bologna was arrested in June 2020, after a video of the baton blow was shared widely on social media. Philadelphia police initially arrested Gorski after that June 1 melee and accused him of assaulting an officer. But after the video surfaced, Krasner’s office dropped those charges and moved to prosecute Bologna instead.
Bologna, a 31-year veteran of the force, was subsequently fired. Many in the police officers’ union reacted with outrage, saying he was simply doing his job during a chaotic and dangerous situation.
On Tuesday, John McNesby, the union’s president, called the charges against Bologna “baseless” and said the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 would “not give up the fight to clear [Bologna’s] name.”
“This is another attempt by DA Krasner to railroad a highly decorated and well-respected member of the Philadelphia Police Department,” McNesby said.
One of Bologna’s attorneys, Fortunato Perri Jr., said in court that prosecutors had for months been in possession of evidence that hurt their own case.
In January, according to Perri, former city Medical Examiner Sam Gulino prepared a report for the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division on Gorski’s injuries. Gulino determined that Gorski had not been struck in the head by the baton, Perri said, but that his headwound was likely sustained when he and Bologna fell to the ground.
Perri said prosecutors met with Gulino in April to provide him with new evidence and see if it would change his mind. It didn’t. Gulino released a second report in July affirming his initial conclusions, Perri said.
“There was never a strike to the head,” said Perri, describing Gulino’s reports as “evidence of innocence.”
Bryant-Powell said she did not agree it was clear when Gorski sustained his head injuries.
And Assistant District Attorney Varghes M. Kurian maintained that Bologna struck Gorski in the head with his baton.
Bologna’s next court date is preliminarily scheduled for next spring. He remains free on bail while awaiting trial.