Two Buffalo police officers were charged with assault Saturday, prosecutors said, after a video showed them shoving a 75-year-old protester in recent demonstrations over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski, who surrendered Saturday morning, pleaded not guilty to second-degree assault. They were released without bail.
At a news conference Saturday, District Attorney John Flynn said the officers “crossed a line.”
The officers had been suspended without pay Friday after a TV crew captured the confrontation the night before near the end of protests.
The footage shows a man identified as Martin Gugino approaching a line of helmeted officers holding batons as they clear demonstrators from Niagara Square around an 8 p.m. curfew.
Two officers push Gugino backward, and he hits his head on the pavement. Blood spills as officers walk past. One officer leans down to check on the injured man before another officer urges the colleague to keep walking.
The video of the encounter sparked outrage online as demonstrators take to cities across the country to protest Floyd’s death.
WATCH | Graphic content warning: Elderly man knocked down, starts bleeding:
“Why? Why was that necessary? Where was the threat?” asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo at his daily briefing Friday. The governor said he spoke to Gugino, who had been hospitalized in serious condition. “It’s just fundamentally offensive and frightening. How did we get to this place?”
But dozens of Buffalo police officers were angered over their fellow officers’ suspensions and stepped down from the department’s crowd control unit Friday. The resigning officers did not leave their jobs altogether.
“Fifty-seven resigned in disgust because of the treatment of two of their members, who were simply executing orders,” said John Evans, president of the Police Benevolent Association, according to local TV station WGRZ.
Buffalo Police initially said in a statement that a person “was injured when he tripped & fell,” WIVB-TV reported, but Capt. Jeff Rinaldo later told the TV station that an internal affairs investigation was opened. On Friday, Buffalo’s police commissioner suspended the two officers without pay, Mayor Byron Brown said.
Veteran activist a ‘peaceable person’
Gugino is a veteran peace activist involved with the Western New York Peace Center and Latin American Solidarity Committee, said Vicki Ross, the centre’s executive director. His Twitter timeline includes tweets and retweets supportive of progressive causes and critical of police. One tweet from Wednesday read: “The cops should not have clubs. And should not be in riot gear. The National Guard should arrest the police.”
“I can assure you, Martin is a peaceable person,” Ross said. “There is no way that he was doing anything to accost or hurt. He made a judgment to stay out after the curfew because he feels that our civil liberties are so in danger, which they most certainly are.”
Ross said Gugino has been undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
“When I saw the video, certainly, it was incredibly distressing and very disappointing. You don’t want to see anything like that,” Mayor Brown told WIVB-TV on Friday.