In one video, Philadelphia police staff inspector Joseph Bologna Jr. shoved a retractable baton into a protester’s neck and then struck a Temple University student in the head with the metal rod before tackling him to the ground.
In another, after a woman appeared to tap his bicycle, he threw the bike to the ground and lunged to grab her, sparking a scuffle amid a previously peaceful protest.
On Tuesday, another protester who had been arrested and restrained with zip ties on June 1, alleged that Bologna bent each of her fingers one-by-one at the knuckle hard enough that she believed her bones would snap.
“[He] systematically went along each of my fingers to twist them at a 90-degree angle to break them,” 31-year-old Shoshana Akins told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He went down all my bottom knuckles, and he started on my top knuckles, and he did this in about 20 seconds. So fast.”
NEW TONIGHT: Philadelphia area district attorney will prosecute Philadelphia Police Staff Inspector Joseph Bologna on a charge of Aggravated Assault for busting open the head of a college student by hitting him with a police baton during protests. @CBSPhilly pic.twitter.com/6SixH8BwU1
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) June 6, 2020
Now, the Philadelphia Police Department has suspended Bologna and announced it intends to fire him, as he faces a charge of aggravated assault and an upswell of outrage on the Internet, where his name has become a symbol of harsh police tactics against peaceful protesters.
But amid that blowback, Bologna has also garnered unreserved support from the police union, which has bashed his arrest as political and even started selling “Bologna Strong” T-shirts to back the officer.
The controversy in Philadelphia mirrors similar incidents that have unfolded nationwide during the last two weeks of protests against police brutality and systemic racism, highlighting deep rifts between officials who support greater accountability and those who believe officers accused of misconduct are simply performing the job they were hired to do.
Two Buffalo officers have been charged with assault for shoving a 75-year-old man in a graphic video that showed him bleeding on the pavement; 57 fellow officers resigned their posts on a special response squad in protest. At least one New York officer was charged with assault for shoving a protester after calling her a “b—-,” and prosecutors are reportedly mulling charges for other officers filmed roughing up peaceful protesters. At a Tuesday news conference, the NYPD police union railed against officials calling for reforms, demanding that critics “stop treating us like animals and thugs and start treating us with some respect.” Officers have also been suspended, fired or criminally charged for violent altercations in Atlanta; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and St. Louis among other cities.
Bologna was charged Friday with aggravated assault for allegedly cracking the Temple University student’s head open and leaving him with a gash that required about 10 staples and 10 sutures to close. On Monday, the officer turned himself in, cheered on by supporters gathered outside the union headquarters who clapped and shouted “good job” as he passed.
Police Staff Inspector Joseph Bologna Jr. is showered with applause and cheers as he leaves @FOPLodge5 to surrender on aggravated assault charges for allegedly striking a protester with a baton last week.
— NBC10 Philadelphia (@NBCPhiladelphia) June 8, 2020
On Tuesday, Philadelphia Police Chief Danielle Outlaw announced in a one-sentence statement that Bologna had been suspended for 30 days and she will move to fire him afterward, following the filing of criminal charges against him.
Bologna did not immediately respond to a request for comment through his attorney late Tuesday.
On one side of the political battle over Bologna’s conduct stands Philadelphia’s reform-minded district attorney, Larry Krasner, a former defense lawyer who has gone toe-to-toe with longtime law enforcement leaders, fired more than two dozen prosecutors in his first week on the job, and decriminalized marijuana possession and some prostitution offenses. Now, he has charged a high-ranking police officer for beating a protester.
“This moment demands a swift and evenhanded response to violent and criminal acts based on the facts and evidence,” Krasner said in a statement Friday. “Americans are taking to the streets to demand a remaking of political, economic, and legal systems that serve the powerful at the expense of citizens’ health, welfare, and lives. There can be no safety or peace without justice.”
Accountability needs to be even-handed and applied to everyone — including police. Today, my office is seeking aggravated assault and other charges against PPD Staff Inspector Joseph Bologna because of our commitment to hold police accountable:https://t.co/dJrhwecXsO
— DA Larry Krasner (@DA_LarryKrasner) June 6, 2020
Opposing Krasner is the city’s outspoken police union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5. Union president John McNesby has already denounced the criminal charge against Bologna, calling it part of Krasner’s “anti-police agenda.” Over the weekend, the union began selling $20 shirts decorated with the union logo and the slogan, “Bologna Strong.”
Bologna “was engaged in a volatile and chaotic situation with only milliseconds to make a decision,” McNesby said in a statement Friday. “Along with arsonists, looters and thieves, Krasner is complicit in the destruction of our great city.”
Show your support for Inspector Joe Bologna 💙
T-Shirts will be available to buy in the cop shop on Tuesday, June 9th in sizes small to 3x for $20.00. Please Share! @FOPLodge5 @john_mcnesby pic.twitter.com/oIuKv20xow
— FOPLodge5 (@FOPLodge5) June 7, 2020
A spokesperson for the Philadelphia police told the Inquirer that Bologna’s suspension was a procedural measure taken whenever an officer is charged with a crime. The department did not say whether Bologna’s status would change if the charges were later dropped or if a jury found him innocent.
Outlaw said several internal investigations are underway and voiced support for holding officers accountable for any actions deemed criminal.
“Some of the images are disturbing,” she said at a news conference Friday. “I am deeply concerned.”