Two Buffalo police officers were charged with second-degree assault on Saturday following national outcry over a video that shows the officers shoving a 75-year-old protester to the ground. Officers Aaron Torglaski and Robert McCabe were charged with second-degree assault in video arraignments in which they both entered not guilty pleas. They were both released without bail after the five-minute procedure and will return to court next month. The two men were charged with felony assault because of the protester’s age and the fact that the two officers are more than 10 years younger.
The officers, who had already been suspended, were part of a group of officers who were ordered to clear an area shortly after the city’s 8 p.m. curfew on Thursday. The video, which has since gone viral, shows Martin Gugino, 75, approaching the officers who were wearing tactical gear. He appears to say something to the officers before they yell at him to move and one pushes him. Gugino then falls backward and hit his head on the sidewalk. The video then shows blood coming out of his head. Torgalski is the one who is seen pushing Gugino in the video. McCabe is the one who sort of pushes Gugino with his baton as well and is about to kneel after the fall but another officer tells him to keep moving.
On Friday, all 57 members of the Bufallo Police Department’s Emergency Response Team resigned from the unit after Toglaski and McCabe were suspended without pay. “Fifty-seven resigned in disgust because of the treatment of two of their members, who were simply executing orders,” John Evans, president of the Police Benevolent Association, said. They did not resign from the police department and many of them, along with other members of the force, went to the Buffalo City Court on Saturday morning to show their support for the suspended officers.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said the union had been an impediment to reform. “This union has been on the wrong side of history for a very long period of time and they have been a real barrier to reform of policing in the city of Buffalo,” Brown said on MSNBC Friday night. Brown had previously said he was “deeply disturbed by the video” but said he did not support an outright firing of the officers, insisting it was important for the investigation to move forward. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed support for Buffalo’s mayor on Saturday. “We saw the video,” Cuomo said at a news conference, “what we saw was horrendous, disgusting, I think illegal.”
Gugino is in “serious but stable condition,” his attorney said. “He is alert and oriented.” The attorney, Kelly Zarcone, also described Gugino as “a longtime peaceful protester, human rights advocate, and overall fan of the US Constitution.” Hours before the protest, Gugino wrote on Twitter that he was concerned about the curfews and said those types of limits shouldn’t apply to demonstrations. “Protests are exempt from curfews because Congress (and mayors) may make no laws that abridge the right of the people peaceably to assemble and complain to the government,” Gugino wrote Thursday morning.