What to Know
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for the firing of two Buffalo police officers seen shoving a 75-year-old protester to the ground, causing him to hit his head
- The victim remains hospitalized in serious but stable condition
- The two officers were charged with assault on Saturday and have been suspended without pay
Two police officers in Buffalo, New York, have been charged with assault and suspended without pay after they were caught on camera shoving a 75-year-old protester, causing him to fall and knock his head to the ground.
Police officers Aaron Torglaski, 39, and Robert McCabe, 32, were virtually arraigned Saturday morning with assault in the second degree, a felony, NBC affiliate WGRZ reported.
Torglaski and McCabe pleaded not guilty and were scheduled for a July 20 felony hearing. Both were been released on their own recognizance.
WGRZ reported that a large crowd of officers and firefighters stood in front of Buffalo City Court during the arraignment as a show of support and stayed until the officers left the courthouse.
The confrontation occurred shortly after the city's 8 p.m. curfew on Thursday. Journalists from Spectrum News Buffalo and WBFO were reporting in Niagara Square as they witnessed officers lining up to push back protesters who were out calling for police accountability and racial justice following the death of George Floyd. One of their videos shows the elderly man calmly approaching the officers, appearing to ask them a question, but the officers pushed the man back.
The shove caused the protester, later identified as Martin Gugino, to lose his balance and fall back, hitting his head on the concrete. Gugino appeared to have been knocked unconscious and blood flowed out of one of his ears.
WGRZ initially reported that the Buffalo Police Department said the man was injured after he tripped and fell. A department spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, NBC News reported.
In a statement provided by his attorney Kelly Zarcone, Gugino was said to be in serious but stable condition, and is alert.
"Mr. Gugino has been a longtime peaceful protester, human rights advocate, and over fan of the U.S. Constitution for many years," the statement read. "Mr. Gugino requests privacy for himself and his family as he recovers. He appreciates all the well wishes he has received and requests that any further protests continue to be peaceful."
By Friday afternoon, officers assigned to Buffalo's Emergency Response Team resigned in protest of the officers' suspension, WGRZ reported.
"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 Buffalo Police Benevolent Association.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown says plans are in place to maintain police services and ensure public safety. The city's police commissioner, Byron Lockwood, said that all members who resigned from the voluntary assignment are still employed by the department.
"I was deeply disturbed by the video as was Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood. He directed an immediate investigation into the matter, and the two officers have been suspended without pay," Mayor Brown said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday the local district attorney should investigate the case for potential criminal charges.
Barring that, the governor thinks the officers should be fired. Cuomo said he had spoken with the injured protester and said the graphic video of the encounter made him "sick to my stomach."
"It's just fundamentally offensive and frightening," Cuomo said. "Who are we? How did we get to this place."
Cuomo later said in a tweet that the actions of the officers "offends our sense of decency & humanity. It’s frightening."
The Eric County District Attorney's Office says it is investigating the incident that occurred outside City Hall. New York State Attorney General Letitia James said her office supports the investigation, and stands by ready to assist following the incident that appears to "be a horrific display of abuse and lack of concern for New Yorkers."
A former Buffalo police officer told the local NPR affiliate WBFO stories from her time with the department on Friday, which came with multiple instances of police brutality. She said she was fired just months before receiving her pension after she jumped on another officer in an effort to stop him from choking a prisoner.