Buffalo police officers await arraignment as supporters gather outside court

Martin Gugino, a 75-year-old protester, lays on the ground after he was shoved by two Buffalo police officers during a protest in Niagara Square in Buffalo June 4, 2020.Jamie Quinn / Handout via REUTERS

Martin Gugino, a 75-year-old protester, lays on the ground after he was shoved by two Buffalo police officers during a protest in Niagara Square in Buffalo June 4, 2020.Jamie Quinn / Handout via REUTERS

BUFFALO — Two Buffalo police officers were arraigned on Saturday on felony assault charges after a viral video showed them shoving an elderly protester who remains critically injured after falling at a march against racism.

Officers Aaron Torgalski, 39, and Robert McCabe, 32, were part of a unit in tactical gear enforcing an 8 p.m. curfew on Thursday during the protest involving long-time community activist Martin Gugino, 75, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said in a statement.

“The two defendants, who are Buffalo Police officers, pushed a protester outside of City Hall, causing him to fall and hit his head on the sidewalk,” Flynn said.

Tough guys gang up on old man.

Tough guys gang up on old man.

Both pleaded not guilty to second-degree assault during the virtual arraignment before Buffalo City Court Judge Craig D. Hannah. They were released on their own recognisance and are due back in court on July 20.

If convicted of the charge, they face up to 7 years in prison.

Members of the Buffalo Police Department’s Emergency Response Team, the officers have been suspended without pay and are being investigated after a local radio station released video of the incident involving Gugino, which went viral and had more than 78 million views by midday Saturday.

Midgets attack. In bulk. With weapons.

Midgets attack. In bulk. With weapons.

He remains in critical condition at Erie County Medical Center, where he was treated for a head injury, loss of consciousness and bleeding from the right ear, Flynn said.

The western New York state city saw pockets of looting after dark like many cities across the United States, where countless otherwise peaceful protests were staged in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.

The video shows Torgalski pushing Gugino before he fell and McCabe about to kneel toward the man sprawled on the sidewalk before being moved along by a supervisor, the Buffalo News reported. Police initially said the man tripped.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said he has not asked for the officers to be fired.

“It is very important that the officers know they are getting due process,” Brown said. “Our information was that individual was an agitator.”

57 Buffalo cops quit tactical unit in protest at officers’ suspension: Official

Here’s your heroes in action. 

All 57 members of a police tactical unit in Buffalo have resigned from that team to protest the suspension of two colleagues who were filmed shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground, officials of the northern New York city said on Friday.

Two members of the Buffalo Police Department’s Emergency Response Team were suspended on Thursday and are being investigated after a local radio station released video of the incident involving the protester, Martin Gugino.

The video, which has been viewed more than 70 million times, shows the white-haired Gugino approaching a line of officers in riot gear. One officer pushes him with a baton and a second one with his hand. He falls, a crack is heard and blood trickles from his head, as officers walk by his still body.

Local media quoted Buffalo Police Benevolent Association President John Evans as saying the officers were doing their job, and that their colleagues on the response team had resigned from the special unit to protest their treatment. The 57 remain police officers, Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood said in a statement. Evans could not be reached for comment.

Earlier on Friday a spokeswoman for the local county’s district attorney, Kait Munro, said the two officers are under investigation for potential criminal liability in connection with Thursday evening’s incident outside city hall.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told a press conference on Friday that contingency plans were in place to address any policing issues due to the resignations and he said state troopers were embedded with Buffalo police to shore up their operations.

“I can say that Buffalo will be safe this weekend,” he said.

Brown said Gugino had been “asked to leave numerous times” from the area because of the city’s curfew.

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Buffalo, New York, Mayor Byron Brown says the resignation of 57 police officers from the force’s specialized unit was “inspired by the union, the police benevolent association.”

“That was an act to intimidate police officers and to not protect the residents of our community.”

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Prior to the incident “there were conflicts between protesters,” Brown said. “There was a danger of fights breaking out between protesters, and the police felt it was very important to clear that scene for the safety of protesters.”

Even so, the video footage has raised further questions about police behaviour, after the death of African-American man George Floyd in Minneapolis set off nationwide street protests.

The video shows the majority of the officers march past Gugino, though the officer who pushed him with a baton starts to lean over him before he is motioned away by another officer. Someone is heard calling for a medic.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday he had spoken with Gugino and was thankful he survived. Cuomo said the police chief should fire the officers involved.

“You see that video and it disturbs your basic sense of decency and humanity,” Cuomo told a daily briefing. “Why, why, why was that necessary? Where was the threat?”

Gugino, who is white, could not be reached. According to a community organiser who has known him for a decade, he is a longtime activist who has advocated for affordable housing, climate justice and police accountability and regularly protested outside the Erie County Holding Center, a Buffalo jail that has come under scrutiny for a string of inmate deaths.

“I’ve been doing this work for around 10 years, and I can’t remember a protest Martin wasn’t at,” said John Washington, an organiser at People’s Action in Buffalo. “Whatever the issues of justice were he stepped up and was always there.”

Washington said Gugino had gone to the demonstration to protest brutality by police but “clearly” posed no danger to the officers. He said he had only been able to confirm Gugino was in stable condition.