Two Buffalo police officers have been charged with assault after video surfaced that showed them shoving an elderly protester to the ground.
via Washington Post
Aaron Torgalski, 39, and Robert McCabe, 32, turned themselves in Saturday, a day after footage of officers shoving 75-year-old Martin Gugino circulated widely. In the video, Gugino falls to the ground and appears to bleed from his ear.
The clip is one of several that show police officers across the country using force against protesters in this week’s demonstrations against police violence.
While there is no federal database or agency tasked with providing information on police misconduct, a tracker maintained by Philip Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University, tallied 8,495 police officers prosecuted between 2005 and 2014.
Stinson said acts of force such as pushing a protester back are common police tactics but are only now gaining more attention since these instances were taped.
“These types of things occur every day,” Stinson wrote in an email to The Post. “We just don’t learn about them because they aren’t recorded on smartphone videos.”
In a video taken Thursday evening by WBFO, a local radio station, Gugino approached a line of police before being pushed back. Gugino stumbled and fell backward, hitting his head on the ground. Blood pooled on the sidewalk under his head. He was hospitalized and is in stable condition as of Saturday.
Gugino’s attorney Kelly V. Zarcone told WKBW in a statement that her client is a “longtime peaceful protester and human rights advocate.” She said he asks for privacy but “appreciates all of the well wishes he has received and requests that any further protests continue to be peaceful.”
Gugino is a member of two nonprofits: PUSH Buffalo, which focuses on affordable housing, and Western New York Peace Center, a human rights organization. He is also part of the Catholic Worker Movement.
Buffalo Police Department Capt. Jeff Rinaldo told The Post that there will be an internal affairs investigation into Torgalski and McCabe, who were suspended without pay.
The officers’ suspension triggered reaction among police: 57 members of the department resigned en masse from the special response squad in protest.
“Fifty-seven resigned in disgust because of the treatment of two of their members, who were simply executing orders,” Buffalo Police Benevolent Association President John Evans told WGRZ.
After news of the resignations, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said he chose to wait to charge the officers until Saturday out of concern that it would trigger unrest Friday night.
“I didn’t want to pour gasoline on a fire,” he said. “I was concerned about the safety of the city last night.”
Members of the police and fire unions were seen applauding Torgalski and McCabe as they left the Buffalo City Courthouse on Saturday after being released without bail. Both pleaded not guilty. The Buffalo Police Benevolent Association and Tom Burton, a lawyer for the association who is representing the two officers, did not respond to a request for comment Saturday.
If found guilty, both officers could face up to seven years in prison. Their next hearing is July 20.
Anyone who’s seen the video knows these officers are guilty. We’ll see if they’re held accountable.