Two Buffalo officers, who were suspended without pay after a video showed police shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground at a George Floyd protest on Thursday night, were charged Saturday with second-degree assault.
A large crowd of police officers and firefighters stood in front of Buffalo City Court to show support for the two officers as they attended a virtual arraignment on Saturday.
Officers Robert McCabe, 32, and Aaron Torgalski, 39, pleaded not guilty to the charges of second-degree assault, a felony, and will be released on their own recognizance, according to NBC affiliate WGRZ in Buffalo. They are both scheduled to return to court on July 20 for a felony hearing.
The now-viral video of the incident shows longtime social justice activist Martin Gugino, 75, approaching a large group of officers in tactical gear and saying something. The officers yell for him to move back before one appears to push him. Gugino then stumbles backwards and falls. Seconds later, a pool of blood can be seen near his head. The incident occurred shortly after the city’s 8 p.m. curfew, NBC affiliate WGRZ in Buffalo reported.
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said in a press conference after the arraignment that McCabe and Torgalski “clearly crossed the line.”
“I can’t turn a blind eye to that,” he said.
“If he was violating a curfew, if he was being disorderly, you turn him around, handcuff him, and take him away arrested. It’s as simple as that,” said Flynn. “You don’t take a baton and shove it; along with the officer next to him using his right hand to shove him and knock him down, and crack his head, his skull on the concrete.”
Gugino was taken to Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo and was in serious but stable condition.
As of Saturday, Gugino was still recovering at the hospital and is reported to be “alert and oriented” according to his attorney, WGRZ reported.
Nearly 60 members of the Buffalo Police Department’s Emergency Response Team, who are specially trained for civil unrest, resigned from that unit Friday after the two officers were suspended over the incident, officials said.
â€œFifty-seven resigned in disgust because of the treatment of two of their members, who were simply executing orders,â€ John Evans, president of the Police Benevolent Association, previously told WGRZ.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown accused the union of being a roadblock to improved police-community relations.
“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 told MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” Friday night.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a news conference Saturday voiced support for the mayor and district attorney’s response. “There’s no tolerance for delay of justice in society anymore,” he said.
“We saw the video … what we saw was horrendous, disgusting, I think illegal,” said Cuomo. “I understand this situation is super heated. It is controversial; people are frightened; people are polarized; there is no path that is going to make everybody happy. There is a path to do the right thing, and do the just thing.”
“I think what the mayor did and the district attorney did was the right thing,” the governor said.
Dan Good contributed.