The Buffalo police officers who pushed a 75-year-old man to the ground during the height of the George Floyd protests—and then didn’t stop to help him as he lay bleeding on the ground with a fractured skull—have been cleared of any wrongdoing.
A Buffalo Police Department arbitrator concluded Friday that Officers Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski will not face any more disciplinary action as a result of their actions that caused 75-year-old Martin Gugino to be hospitalized for about a month in summer 2020 with a brain injury. The push during a street protest, which was caught on video by nearby news cameras, quickly went viral, as hundreds of thousands of Americans were protesting police brutality in cities around the U.S.
The arbitrator, attorney Jeffrey Selchick, called the officers’ use of force “absolutely legitimate” in his report, which was obtained by Buffalo’s NBC news affiliate WGRZ.
“Gugino, after the force was applied to him, appears to have not been able to keep his balance for reasons that might well have had as much to do with the fact that he was holding objects in each hand or his advanced age," Selchick wrote in his 41-page decision. “It would be folly to believe that the Respondents [were] somehow required to ignore the fact that Gugino was acting in an erratic fashion.”
While Selchick says Gugino was acting erratically Gugino told the Buffalo News that he came to speak to the officers, not stir trouble. He even successfully spoke to a few officers before he was later pushed.
“The point was suppressing dissent,” he told the outlet last year. “And you can't do that. So I went there to talk to the policemen."
McCabe and Torgalski were suspended without pay and arrested on second-degree assault charges shortly after the video went viral. But a grand jury eventually dismissed the case against them in February 2021, and the arbitrator’s decision on Friday was the last opportunity to hold the officers responsible.
On June 4, 2020, Buffalo’s Emergency Response Team, which was reserved for responding to civil unrest at the time, was marching on Niagara Square shortly after the city’s 8 p.m. curfew to clear the streets of remaining protestors. As the officers advance, the bystander video shows Gugino walking up to two of them and initiating a conversation. About three seconds pass before two of the officers push Gugino backward.
The elderly man’s head slams against the pavement, and he lies there motionless, bleeding from the head. One of the officers who pushed him tries to kneel down next to Gugino but another officer urges him forward. Police in the video can be heard calling for medics as others keep protesters, outraged by what they’d just seen, at bay.
Gugino was taken to the hospital shortly afterward in stable but serious condition, according to Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. He stayed there for just under a month recovering from his injuries.
The incident was a major point of contention from both the public and the Buffalo Police Department. All 57 of the officers assigned to the Emergency Response Unit resigned over the incident less than a day later.
Gugino is still suing the city of Buffalo in a separate lawsuit for economic damages. His attorney in the lawsuit, Melissa Wischerath, told Buffalo News that the arbitrator’s ruling will not affect their case.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told Buffalo News that the officers are expected to be back on the job Monday.
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