The entire contingent of 57 officers on the Buffalo, NY, Police Department Emergency Response team resigned from that voluntary assignment in solidarity with two officers who were suspended without pay on Thursday for pushing a 75-year-old man to the ground.
In a video of the incident that went viral, an elderly man, Martin Gugino, approached the advancing police as they began to disperse crowds from a protest in Niagara Square after the 8pm curfew began in downtown Buffalo.
Rather than follow their instructions, he attempted to argue or engage the officers.
A shout of “push him back” can be heard on the video recorded by the 7 Eyewitness News Reporter.
— WBFO (@WBFO) June 5, 2020
Buffalo Police Officer Aaron Torgalski pushed the man who lost his balance, falling backward and landing on his head.
A second police officer leaned down toward the man on the ground and he is pulled away by a third officer who uses his radio to call for medical support. Additional officers also walk past the man toward the protesters, while voices on the video can be heard saying, “He is bleeding! Hold the line. He’s bleeding out of his ear! Get a medic!”
Further analysis of the video also cast doubt on whether the fall was the result of unnecessary police brutality or if it were even staged by Gugino, a protester, who was also overheard saying he planned to goad the cops into physical contact.
The team that quit are not leaving their jobs, but abandoning the emergency response unit, and said they did so because their colleagues should not be punished for following orders.
“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, according to local WGRZ.
On Friday, Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood said:
“As a longstanding member of the City of Buffalo Police Department, I know that our officers are fully committed to serving and protecting our community. While some officers have chosen to remove themselves from a voluntary assignment with the ERT, it is important to note that no officers have actually resigned from the police force. I want to reassure our citizens that they will be protected in any peaceful gatherings that ensue and that our department remains focused on the security of our community.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday that he had spoken with the Gugino and was thankful to confirm he was alive, Reuters reported. Cuomo said the police chief should fire the officers involved.
“You see that video and it disturbs your basic sense of decency and humanity,” Cuomo told a daily briefing. “Why, why, why was that necessary? Where was the threat?”
On Thursday, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown released a statement after Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood suspended the pair:
“Tonight, after a physical altercation between two separate groups of protesters participating in an illegal demonstration beyond the curfew, two Buffalo Police officers knocked down a 75-year-old man. The victim is in stable but serious condition at ECMC.”
“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.”
“After days of peaceful protests and several meetings between myself, Police leadership and members of the community, tonight’s event is disheartening.”