This past week police arrested a man accused of killing a Gwinnett Water Resources employee who was directing traffic in a hit and run accident.
These are the top stories from the past week.
Man beaten by Gwinnett police officers on Sugarloaf Parkway in 2017 is suing county, officers and former police chief
A man who was beaten in the middle of Sugarloaf Parkway by two Gwinnett County police officers in 2017 has filed a federal lawsuit against the officers, as well as the county and former police Chief Butch Ayers over the incident.
Demetrius Hollins filed the lawsuit in the Northern District Court of Georgia on Sept. 10, and is seek to collect damages for injuries he sustained in the attack as well as attorneys fees.
“The traumatic and unjustifiable abuse of being punched in the face, tased, and kicked in the face by sworn police officers for no good reason, in the middle of a busy public roadway and intersection in broad daylight, has caused significant mental and emotional shock, humiliation, distress and trauma, and serious and ongoing psychological and emotional injuries which Plaintiff still experiences today,” Hollins attorney, Justin Miller, wrote in the lawsuit.
The officers at the center of the lawsuit, former Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni and former Officer Robert McDonald, were fired in April 2017 after videos of them assaulting Hollins in the roadway.
The videos show Hollins being stomped on and struck by the officers during a traffic stop at the intersection of Sugarloaf Parkway and Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road in Lawrenceville. The lawsuit filed earlier this month says Hollins was kicked by McDonald so hard at one point during the encounter that his head bounced off the ground.
McDonald was found guilty of aggravated assault, battery and felony violation of oath by public office for his role in the incident at a trial in February 2020. Bongiovanni pleaded no contest to aggravated assault and battery in 2019.
Bongiovanni’s plea deal allowed him to spend six months in Gwinnett’s work-release program, five months home confinement and the rest of his 10-year sentence on probation instead of going to jail if he testified against McDonald.
The lawsuit argues that Gwinnett County leaders and former Police Chief Butch Ayers are liable for what happened to Hollins because they did not do enough to address excessive use of force issues prior to the April 2017 incident. The suit says there had been previous use of force incidents involving Bongiovanni and McDonald.
“GCPD’s widespread and persistent pattern and practice of turning a blind eye and ignoring the need to investigate, train, supervise, and/or discipline GCPD officers regarding their constitutional duty to intervene amounts to a municipal policy of deliberate indifference which was the moving force behind and caused Plaintiff injuries,” Miller wrote in the lawsuit.
U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff unveils goal to make certain technical college programs tuition free
U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., visited Gwinnett Technical College in Lawrenceville on Friday to unveil a new proposal to make certain technical college programs available tuition free.
Ossoff made the announcement in midst of a tour of Gwinnett Tech’s campus, where he spoke with students at the school about their experiences in higher education. The senator’s proposal targets skills-oriented programs such as HVAC certificate programs, welding certificates, health care certification and automotive or commercial drivers license programs.
“I’m pushing, as Congress considers this reconciliation budget, that we pass legislation that will make technical school and job training programs 100% tuition free people in Georgia and Americans across the country,” Ossoff said as he stood in front of Gwinnett Tech’s horticulture building.
“We spend a lot of time on the policy debate focused on four-year college. We don’t focus enough on skills training, technical training. Precisely what this institution delivers for Georgians.”
It is unclear where in the budget the funding for Ossoff’s proposal would come from. The senator said there are ongoing discussions in Congress about how to fund priorities that are being pushed for inclusion in the reconciliation budget.
At the same time, Ossoff said Congress needs to be fiscally responsible when coming up with the budget.
“The most important announcement I want to emphasize today is that it is vital that we ensure Georgians and folks across the country can access this kind of skills training and technical training without having to worry about tuition as a barrier to access,” Ossoff said.
Gwinnett County Public Schools unveils new COVID-19 case monitoring dashboard
Gwinnett County Public Schools is offering parents a new way to view data about COVID-19 cases in the district’s schools.
The school system launched a new COVID-19 dashboard on Thursday. The dashboard takes the numbers reported by schools in presents them in a number of ways, including graphs that show the rise and fall of case numbers of a period of time as well as tables that show the numbers.
As far as the daily numbers go, the dashboard shows the same information that can also be found in the daily PDF reports that GCPS has been posting on its website. Those reports continue to be posted in addition to the dashboard’s regular updates.
“We wanted to provide our community with reporting that would provide greater understanding of what’s happening in each individual school across our district and, perhaps most importantly, trends over time,” “ GCPS Chief Data Officer Debbie Durrence told school board members on Thursday. “So, today we want to introduce you to our new COVID-19 reporting dashboard.
“This tool is designed to present the same information shared in our reports, new cases reported each day as well as those actively out of our buildings, however in a new interactive format that provides more context for the information utilizing new tools and technologies previously not in place in Gwinnett County Public Schools.”
On Friday, GCPS reported 103 new confirmed COVID-19 cases as well as 18 new probable cases and 229 new close contacts, according to the dashboard. In terms of total active cases, there are 599 active confirmed cases, 92 probable cases and 820 close contacts.
The dashboard has two pages that visitors can toggle between. The first page shows new case numbers for the district and broken down by school. The second page shows all active confirmed and probable cases as well as all active close contacts and 14-day case trends.
The total case numbers available for both the district as a whole and by school. Parents can also set the dashboard’s settings so the only schools that are shown are those institutions within a specific cluster chosen by the parent from a drop down menu.
“It updates daily from the previous day’s information,” Durrence said. “Typically around 10 a.m., you’ll see an update, just like our PDF reports. It does show trend information ... over time by the case type as well as splitting that information up by staff and students.
“A new addition to this report includes the percentage of individuals represented by what you see on the screen.”
An example of the percentage figures now listed in the report is that the number of total active cases in the district represent 0.3% of all GCPS students and staff.
The Discovery Cluster had the lowest number of active confirmed cases — with only 10 confirmed cases in the entire cluster, four of which are at Discovery High School — as of Friday. Meanwhile, the Grayson Cluster has the highest number in GCPS, with a total of 53 active confirmed cases and about half of those being at Bay Creek and Couch middle schools combined.
Parents can also adjust the settings from a drop down menu that lets parents pick a specific school and see new cases, total active cases and trends over time.
Central Gwinnett High School, for example, has the highest number of active confirmed cases, with 17 in all as of Friday, while Duluth High School follows with 15 active confirmed cases.
The dashboard shows total active confirmed cases, as of Friday, were down significantly from where they were on Sept. 11, when there were 1,387 total confirmed cases. The numbers are up, however, from the 494 active confirmed cases present in the district on Sept. 20.
“(The dashboard) looks great,” school board Chairman Everton Blair told Durrence. “I would encourage the link to be maybe more visible and higher up on the (GCPS COVID information webpage).”
Judge orders Gwinnett Tax Commissioner Tiffany Porter to comply with contract for Grayson's tax billing
Gwinnett County Tax Commissioner Tiffany Porter must abide by a tax billing contract the city of Grayson entered into with the county commission earlier this year, a judge ruled on Friday.
Grayson’s contract with the county had been the subject of a lawsuit between the city and Porter. The contract calls for Porter’s staff to do the city’s tax billing without paying the tax commissioner an additional fee beyond reimbursing the office for expenses incurred printing and sending out the bills and processing payments.
Grayson filed the lawsuit after Porter, who wanted cities that use her office for billing to pay her a salary supplement in addition to reimbursing the office for incurred expenses, told the city that she would not abide by the contract because she did not agree to it.
Porter, whose office is a constitutional office in Georgia, argued in court that a state law used to negotiate the contract was unconstitutional. Judge Laura Tate disagreed and ruled on Friday that the contract was valid and the law was constitutional.
“In the present case, the tax commissioner does not object to the city and county entering into agreements for the tax commissioner to collect municipal fees,” Tate wrote. “This is evidenced by her own affidavit in which she acknowledges that she has approved and entered into other agreements between municipalities and Gwinnett County.
“The tax commissioner only objects to the agreement between Gwinnett County and the city of Grayson because it does not provide her any additional compensation for collecting taxes for the city of Grayson. While the tax commissioner may not like this decision, the legislature has given Gwinnett county the right to make the decision regarding compensation.”
The court battle — which could continue to a higher court if Porter decides to appeal Tate’s decision — was the first challenge to a state law that the General Assembly passed late in its 2021 session to address the issue of tax commissioners using contracts with cities for billing services to supplement their annual salaries.
It’s a case that ended up involving some legal heavyweights in Georgia, namely former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, who is Porter’s attorney, and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, whose office filed two briefs backing Grayson’s arguments in the case.
The law that was used as a basis for the contract between Grayson and Gwinnett commissioners was drafted after news that Porter planned to charge several Gwinnett cities a fee that would essentially be a supplement to her salary to continue doing their tax billing. Several cities quickly decided to do their own billing or find alternative solutions to have billing done in response.
Only Peachtree Corners, Berkeley Lake and Dacula agreed to pay a supplement to Porter’s salary in addition to the $1.80 per per tax parcel fee for billing services. Dacula is reportedly looking at eventually moving toward doing its own billing, however.
Grayson only agreed to the $1.80 per tax parcel fee for billing services, which goes to the office and not Porter, but not any additional fees to the commissioner herself.
The bill was signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp back in the spring. The law says tax billing contracts between counties and cities in any county with 14 or more cities could be negotiated by the cities and their county commission. That requirement regarding the number of cities became a point of contention in the Grayson versus Porter case.
Sears argued that the legislature can only use general laws to regulate how the tax commissioner’s offices operate. Since Gwinnett and Fulton counties were the only counties in Georgia that currently meet the 14-city requirement in the new law, Sears argued it was a special law meant to only apply to those counties and therefore unconstitutional.
“The 14-or-more-municipalities classification used in O.C.G.A. 48-5-359.1(a)(3) might be a baby step removed from identifying Gwinnett and Fulton counties by name, but it is no less a ruse of generality, particularly where the legislature itself has total control over which counties qualify for the classification,” Sears wrote.
“The 14-or-more-municipalities classification applies to only Gwinnett County and Fulton County, and their tax commissioners, now and forever into the future, until the legislature decides it should apply to another county by creating more municipalities in that county. Where, as here, not only the classification but also qualifying for the classification rests in the exclusive control of the legislature, the statute must be recognized as a special law.”
Carr, on the other hand, argued in one brief that the law was constitutional.
“The restriction of a ‘county which contains 14 or more municipalities’ is open to letting later counties fall within this class, should additional municipalities be incorporated in other counties,” he wrote in his legal filing. “Likewise, both Gwinnett and Fulton Counties can fall outside of the class should the municipalities in their counties be dissolved.”
Ultimately, Tate agreed with Carr’s stance that the law Gwinnett commissioners and the city of Grayson used when reaching the tax billing contract was valid under the Georgia Constitution.
“Accordingly, O.C.G.A. 48-5-359.1 is a general law, as its provisions operate uniformly upon all persons who are brought into the relations and circumstances provided by it, its distinctions are neither arbitrary nor capricious, and the law is therefore constitutional,” Tate wrote.
Police arrest man accused of killing Gwinnett Water Resources employee in hit and run accident
Gwinnett County police have arrested a Loganville man and charged him with multiple crimes, including homicide by vehicle, after he allegedly killed a Gwinnett County Water Resources employee with his vehicle.
Police are still investigating the incident, which happened at the intersection of Oak Grove Road and Henderson Lake Drive in unincorporated Loganville. Police Officer Senior Hideshi Valle said Thomas Allen Burke, 44, is accused of driving a vehicle that hit Gwinnett Water Resources employee Constantin George Bolof, 60, and leaving the scene of the accident.
Bolof had worked for the county since 2000 and was set to retire in nine months, county officials said on Friday.
“Our hearts are heavy,” County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Hendrickson said. “The Bolof family has lost a loved one, our Department of Water Resources has lost a faithful colleague and the Gwinnett County family has lost a valued team member. We are praying for resolve and comfort at this time.”
Bolof was directing traffic around an active construction site when the accident occurred and he died from his injuries. Burke was allegedly under the influence of alcohol when the accident occurred.
Burke was booked into the Gwinnett County Jail on Thursday. He faces charges of homicide by vehicle in the 1st degree, hit and run, driving while under the influence of alcohol and reckless driving.
"Gwinnett Police department would like to extend its condolence to his family, friends and coworkers at Water Resources," Valle said.
Bolof was a trades associate in field operations at Water Resources, and county officials said he was known around that department's offices as having a cheerful disposition.
“When our Gwinnett County family members come to work every day to serve the community, they expect to go home at the end of the day. There are no words to express the hurt I feel for the Bolof family,” County Administrator Glenn Stephens said.
“I know your prayers, as well as mine, are for peace and strength for George’s family today and every day.”
Gwinnett commissioners ban discrimination based on immigration status, hairstyle or housing status
Gwinnett commissioners moved to broaden the county government’s nondiscrimination policies this week by adding several new protections for county employees, including barring discrimination based on their immigration status, hairstyle or housing situation.
The county’s nondiscrimination policy was updated by the commissioners on Tuesday. Among the new areas that are protected from discrimination are ancestry or homeless, immigration or family statuses.
The revisions also borrow from the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act, also known as the CROWN Act, by forbidding discrimination against employees if they have ethnic hairstyles.
“Discrimination takes many different forms and it’s important for Gwinnett County to take the lead in identifying and eliminating them,” Commission Chairwoman Nicole Hendrickson said. “People need to know we apply the Gwinnett Standard to our organization as well as to our employment opportunities.”
The new protections are set to go into effect on Nov. 1. The county already forbid discrimination based on sex and gender identity, race, color, age, sexual orientation, religion or political affiliation.
This is the second time in just over a year that the county’s nondiscrimination policy has been updated. County commissioners added protections for employees based on their sexual orientation and gender identity in June 2020.
Gwinnett County leaders changed rules designed to protect county employees from discrimination on Tuesday to ensure no employee will be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
County leaders framed the new protections as an expansion of equity by ensuring more population groups are protected from discrimination.
“While Gwinnett works very hard to provide equal opportunities for all employees, the merit rule changes address subtle ways in which people can be penalized indirectly or unintentionally,” District 1 Commissioner Kirkland Carden said.
“We want people to be recognized and assessed according to their abilities and contributions.”
Commissioner Ben Ku, who led the effort to get protections for sexual orientation and gender identity last year, said, “I’m happy that the work I did since getting elected to standardize this language and wording continues to be updated and enhanced to prevent all targeted and arbitrary discrimination. Gwinnett County holds itself to the highest standards of integrity and fairness.”
One of inspirations that county officials cited as influencing the new revisions adopted this week is the CROWN Act.
The county said nationwide data shows that Black women are 1.5 times more likely to face discrimination in the workplace and be sent home if they wear ethnic hairstyles or textures. These styles and textures can include braids, locs, twists or knots, according to the county.
“People are multi-faceted with many abilities and in an evolving and diverse community like Gwinnett, we’re striving not to let things like hair styles or family arrangements get in the way of recruiting and promoting the best talent we can find to assist in delivering superior services to our taxpayers,” commission Vice Chairwoman Marlene Fosque said.
Commissioner Jasper Watkins said the county should focus on whether its employees can do the jobs they are hired to do, and not on how their hair is styled, or what their immigration, housing or family statuses are.
“To succeed, any organization needs to get the most from its people and that means treating people fairly no matter who they are, where they come from or what they look like,” Watkins said. “We just want to know you can get the job done.”
Sugar Hill hires retired Gwinnett cop as city's first public safety director
A retired Gwinnett County police officer has been picked to serve as the first public safety director in the history of the city of Sugar Hill.
The city council recently appointed Diane King to lead the new Sugar Hill public safety department, starting Oct. 4. King, who spent 20 years in Gwinnett County law enforcement, will also serve as the city marshal.
“We look forward to Diane joining the Sugar Hill team,” Mayor Steve Edwards said. “All of us know her from her service to Gwinnett as a Sergeant in the North Precinct, but also her commitment to the community through her volunteer work with the Lanier Athletic Association. She lives in Sugar Hill, volunteers here, goes to church here and most importantly, understands the vision this city council has for the future of our great city.”
Sugar Hill has been gradually moving toward creating the public safety department by allocating money in the last two city budgets for its creation. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed efforts to get it going, however, because city leaders had to turn their attention to making sure Sugar Hill could still safely deliver services to residents without any interruptions during the pandemic.
The goal for the department is that it will eventually add another four officers and an administrative assistant, and the officers will be focused on community policing and coordinating city-wide emergency operations. The officers will, for example, be tasked with enhancing safety in downtown Sugar Hill, as well as in the city’s parks, greenways and neighborhoods. City Councilman Marc Cohen will be the council’s liaison with the department.
King will report directly to the city manager and be liaison with the Gwinnett County Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies.
“Sugar Hill is such a special place,” King said. “I look forward to dedicating myself to the City of Sugar Hill as I have in year’s past to the Gwinnett County Police Department. There are so many things our residents, from toddlers to retirees, can do and I want to make sure all get to enjoy the investments this city has made to improve their quality of life.”
King’s hiring comes during a period of major change in public safety in Sugar Hill. Insight Protection Services took over public safety patrol duties in the city from Plaza Security Patrol last week, and King will be tasked with coordinating with the contractor.
Gwinnett County police will continue to conduct foot patrols in downtown Sugar Hill in the evenings, as well as vehicle patrols after midnight.
“Sugar Hill strives daily to improve public safety and emergency operations which support the overall vision of the city,” City Manager Paul Radford said. “Engaging Insight Protection Services to work with our newly created Public Safety Department enhances our abilities to patrol our neighborhoods, growing park system, the new Sugar Hill Greenway and all of our diverse and active downtown assets with the goal of keeping Sugar Hill a safe place to live, work and play.”
City residents who need Insight Protection Services’ assistance can call 470-838-2992 and talk directly to the on duty security officer. City officials said residents who need emergency assistance can also call 911 to speak with a dispatcher from the Gwinnett County Police Department.
The county police department can also be reached at a non-emergency phone number, which is 770-513-5700.
Body found in Lake Lanier last week identified as Gwinnett County man
Hall County Sheriff’s Office investigators said a body found in Lake Lanier last week has been identified as 42-year-old Duluth man Nermin Rustempasic.
Personnel with the GBI Crime Lab were able to identify the man, Hall Sheriff’s Office investigators said, and his next of kin was notified on Monday.
The Sheriff’’s Office said the body of Rustempasic, who owned a boat stored at Sunrise Cove Marina, was found near Old Federal Campground.
According to the preliminary investigation, there were no immediate signs of trauma to the body and no initial evidence of foul play, investigators said.
Autopsy results and a toxicology report from the crime lab are pending.
The body was found floating in Lake Lanier in west Hall County on Sept. 14. Deputies responded to a call just after 5 p.m. from an individual on a personal watercraft who spotted the body about 100 yards from the shore of Old Federal Campground.
According to a preliminary investigation, the body had been in the water for approximately a week. With no immediate means to determine identity or cause and manner of death, investigators sent the body to the GBI Crime Lab for autopsy.
Gwinnett police arrest Lawrenceville man in death of woman who was shot to death in her home
Gwinnett County police have arrested a Lawrenceville man in connection with the death of a woman found shot to death inside her home on Monday morning.
Ray Charles Evans, 31, faces charges of felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony in connection with the death of Shakiyla Sample, 29. Police said officers responded to a “Person shot” call shortly after 4:30 a.m. on Prospect Church Road in Lawrenceville.
When officers arrived, they entered the home and found Sample dead from a gunshot wound, police said.
Detectives are investigating the motive for the shooting, and the Crime Scene Unit processed the scene, police said. Gwinnett police were assisted by the Forsyth County SWAT team in the arrest of Evans.
The homicide is the third in Gwinnett County in the past 24 hours.
Anyone who has information about the shooting is asked to call detectives at 770-513-5300 or Crime Stoppers, which lets tipsters remain anonymous, at 404-577-8477. They can also visit www.stopcrimeATL.com.
There is a cash reward offered by Crime Stoppers for information that leads to an arrest and indictment. Tipsters are asked to reference case No. 21075777.
Gwinnett County Public Schools' average SAT score rose this year
The Gwinnett School and Math, Science and Technology once again leads Gwinnett County Public Schools in average SAT scores, according to numbers released by the district.
GSMST students had an average SAT score of 1,378 last year, far outpacing other GCPS high schools on the test, which is one of the exams colleges look at during the college admission process. That is higher than the GCPS average SAT score of 1,132, the Georgia average of 1,077 and the national average of 1,038 for public school students.
GSMST has lead GCPS in SAT scores for at least the last three years according to three-year data from the district. The average scores released Monday reflect the scores posted by members of the Class of 2021.
Overall, GCPS saw its average SAT score rise significantly this year, continuing a trend of increasing scores posted by the district. The district’s average score in 2020 was 1,097, and it was 1,094 the year before that.
“As we review these SAT scores there are so many reasons to be proud,” GCPS Superintendent Calvin J. Watts said. “And, while we are glad to see our scores continue to rise, there is a far greater story here that speaks to our district’s focus on increasing student achievement, the commitment of our teachers to ensure students are learning and prepared for their futures, and the perseverance and determination of students who endured a very different learning environment than any class before them.”
The district saw increases across ethnic lines as well. Black high school students posted an average score of 1,058, up from 1,028 in 2020 and 1,027 in 2019. Hispanic students posted an average score of 1,072, up from 1,046 in 2020 and 1,035 in 2019.
Meanwhile, Asian students posted an average score of 1,221, up from 1,191 in 2020 and 1,206 in 2019. The average score for White students was 1,173, which is up from 1,159 in 2020 and 1,162 in 2019.
The Black and Asian student cohorts each had the largest increases of the four ethnic groups at 30 points apiece, followed by a 26-point increase for the Hispanic cohort and a 14-point increase for the White cohort.
And, in the area of college and career readiness benchmarks, the district said 62% of students in the Class of 2021 who took the SAT met benchmarks in two areas evaluated in the test (one being reading and writing and the other being mathematics). That is up from 54% of students from the Class of 2020 who took the SAT.
Among the four ethnic group cohorts, 78% of Asian students met benchmarks in both areas of the SAT while 74% of White students, 50% of Hispanic students and 44% of Black students did the same.
GCPS said the percentage of Hispanic and Black students who met both benchmarks is up from last year, when 42% of Hispanic students and 37% of Black students accomplished that feat.
After GSMST, North Gwinnett High School had the next highest average SAT score in GCPS, with an average of 1,210.
The high schools following GSMST and North Gwinnett were Peachtree Ridge (1,155); Brookwood (1,152); Parkview (1,142); Mill Creek (1,141); Mountain View (1,140); Paul Duke STEM (1,132); Norcross (1,126); Duluth (1,123); Gwinnett Online Campus (1,120); Collins Hill (1,114); Grayson (1,110); Lanier (1,108); Archer (1,105); Dacula (1,082); McClure Health Sciences (1,081); Discovery (1,065); Berkmar (1,049); Central Gwinnett (1,044); Shiloh (1,040); South Gwinnett (1,030); and Meadowcreek (992).