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Assault charges against Buffalo police officers seen pushing 75-year-old protester dismissed

A graphic video that went viral last June showed the elderly protester audibly hitting his head on the pavement after being shoved and bleeding from his ear.

Assault charges against Buffalo police officers seen pushing 75-year-old protester dismissed
Cover Image Source: Erie County District Attorney's Office

A grand jury has dismissed assault charges against two Buffalo, New York, police officers who were filmed last summer shoving a 75-year-old man, causing him to fall, hit his head on the sidewalk, and bleed from his ear. While Erie County District Attorney John Flynn did not explain the jury's decision-making at a news conference on Thursday, he defended his decision to charge the officers with felony assault within days of the June 4 incident. "To this day, I'll stand by the fact that charges should have been charged, and there was probable cause at that time to charge that offense, and I stand by that," Flynn said, reports ABC News. "I make no apologies for it."

 



 

 

A graphic video of the incident captured by local NPR station WBFO quickly went viral in June amid protests and overwhelming criticism of police use of force following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The footage shows the elderly protester, Martin Gugino, approaching a line of police before officers shoved him to the ground amid yells of "Push him back! Push him back!" Gugino fell to the pavement, audibly hitting his head, and immediately began to bleed. Two of the officers seen in the video, Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe, were later suspended without pay and charged with second-degree assault. They remain suspended pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation.

 



 

 

Explaining that the grand jury proceedings are secret as he anticipated backlash to the outcome of the high-profile case, Flynn assured that prosecutors "put all relevant evidence" before the grand jury, including multiple witnesses. "I've got 28 years as a naval officer, and I live and breathe every day by the core values: honor, courage, and commitment," he said. "And integrity happens to be a big thing with me. And I'm sitting here right now talking into every one of these mics, looking at every one of these cameras right here, looking at each one of you in the eye right now, and I'm telling you that I sandbagged nothing."

 



 

 

"I went into that grand jury, I put all relevant evidence into that grand jury. I put multiple witnesses in that grand jury. I put everything that was not cumulative into that grand jury. And you got my word on that," Flynn added. According to CNN, the district attorney stressed that it was his intention to treat these officers in the same manner as civilians in a similar situation. "I apologize for nothing," he told reporters. "I would not make any changes on any of my decisions going back to when this happened, OK? And yeah, I'm not going to tell you that in my opinion the right thing happened here because I still believe that a crime was committed."

 



 

 

Meanwhile, the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association said it was "extremely pleased" with the grand jury's decision. "As we have stated all along, Officers McCabe and Torgalski were simply following departmental procedures and the directives of their superiors to clear Niagara Square despite working under extremely challenging circumstances," the union said. Buffalo PBA President John Evans echoed the same in a statement that reads: "We are grateful the Grand Jury decided not to charge. They saw there was no criminal intent. These officers have been put through hell. We look forward to their return to work."

 



 

Speaking to ABC affiliate WKBW on Thursday night, Gugino expressed shock that the charges against the officers were dropped. "It's a surprise and I think the whole world is going to be surprised," he said. "You think I am breaking the law, arrest me. Don't push me down. Where is that in the training manual?" Gugino was among a handful of demonstrators protesting at Niagara Square on the day of the incident. The protest occurred after a Buffalo curfew, Flynn noted. "There was a curfew, and he broke the law," he said. "He should not have been shoved. He should have been arrested peacefully."

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