It’s difficult to even remember all of the horrific violence that took place during the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd, much of it at the hands of police.
One episode, in particular, took place during a protest in Buffalo, New York, when video captured a 75-year-old protester shoved to the ground by two police officers in riot gear. Martin Gugino fell and hit his head. Blood was seen pouring from his ear. The video, shot by Buffalo radio reporter Michael Desmond, sent shockwaves around the world.
In the days that followed, officers Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe were suspended without pay and then arrested and charged with second-degree felony assault. Last year, a grand jury dismissed the case. On Friday, arbitrator Jeffery M. Selchick officially cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, The Buffalo News reports.
“Upon review, there is no evidence to sustain any claim that Respondents (police officers) had any other viable options other than to move Gugino out of the way of their forward movement,” Selchick wrote of the June 4, 2020 incident in his 41-page arbitration.
The officers testified that Gugino refused to move, and Torgalski said he was both afraid of getting COVID-19 from Gugino and that the elderly man had gotten too close to his firearm. Torgalski claimed he wasn’t sure why Gugino fell.
Selchick surmised in his decision that Gugino fell because he was holding something in his hands, and due to his age and because the force of the officers took him by surprise, he simply “lost his balance.”
Gugino has sued the Buffalo Police Department over his injuries, which include a fractured skull and required a month-long hospital stay. The suit is pending.
Gugino’s attorney Melissa D. Wischerath told The Buffalo News they were “not aware of any case where this arbitrator has ruled against on-duty police officers, so his ruling here on behalf of the police was not only expected by us, but was certainly expected by the union and city who selected and paid him. His decision has absolutely no bearing on the pending lawsuit.”
Thomas H. Burton, an attorney representing the Buffalo Police union, claimed the arbitrator’s ruling was “the right victory and an across-the-board victory for Buffalo Police officers.” Burton added: “Evidence from the hearing showed that they simply were trying to back him off … if Mr. Gugino had simply moved away and left, none of this would have happened.”
A few months after the incident, Gugino told WGRZ-TV that when it comes to Buffalo police, “it’s not a situation of a few bad apples, this is a bad barrel. A couple of bad barrels.” He added:
“These are not two especially bad officers, the whole system is wrong. They’re all taught to do the wrong thing. That’s the problem that has to be fixed… And the chief of police, whatever training he gave these guys is not right. You’re allowed to protest on the sidewalk. Protest is the American way. That’s the feedback that the government needs.”
Published with permission from Daily Kos.