2 Buffalo Police Officers Charged With Assault of Protester, Mayor Calls Demonstrator an 'Instigator'

Two police officers have been charged with second-degree assault after a 75-year-old protester was shoved to the ground Thursday in Buffalo, New York, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn announced Saturday.

The officers, who were identified as Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe, both pleaded not guilty to the felony charges.

"On Thursday night, we had two of our police officers cross a line," Flynn said during a Saturday news conference. "We had two of our police officers who were charged and arrested this morning."

A video that a reporter with Buffalo's WBFO station shared of the incident showed the protester approach and speak with a group of officers before two of them apparently pushed him to the ground. A pool of blood was seen flowing from the man's head after he was shoved.

The Erie County Medical Center said Friday the protester, identified later as Martin Gugino, was in "stable but serious condition."

An attorney representing Gugino released a statement late Friday that read: "Mr. Gugino has been a longtime peaceful protester, human rights advocate, and overall fan of the US Constitution for many years. At this time, Mr. Gugino is in serious but stable condition. He is alert and oriented. Mr. Gugino requests privacy for himself and his family as he recovers. He appreciates all of the well wishes he has received and requests that any further protests continue to be peaceful."

Both Torgalski and McCabe were suspended without pay before charges were brought against them Saturday, and an investigation into the incident was ordered Friday by Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood.

Following the two officers' suspension, 57 members of the police department's Emergency Response Team resigned their posts in the unit on Friday, but remain on the force.

According to a statement by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, the incident involving the injured protester took place during an "illegal demonstration beyond the curfew."

The Thursday evening protest in Buffalo was one of many that have taken place across the U.S. in response to the case of George Floyd, a black man who died while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.

Noting the looting, property destruction and violence that have occurred at protests around the country in the days since Floyd's death, Brown said Buffalo police were attempting to enforce a curfew put in place to prevent demonstrations from getting out of hand at the time the 75-year-old Gugino was injured.

"According to what has been reported me, that individual was a key and major instigator of people engaging in those kinds of activities," the mayor said during a Friday interview with Buffalo radio station WBEN. He added that he was not calling for the officers' firing but said he wanted a "swift" investigation into the incident.

One day later, Flynn's office published a news release announcing the charges against the two officers. Torgalski and McCabe, both of whom The Buffalo News said were represented by attorney Joseph LaTona, were released without bail and scheduled to return to court on July 20. Each officer faces a maximum penalty of seven years in prison if convicted, the release said.

LaTona did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment in time for publication.

"We obviously have a conflict in this country," Flynn said during Saturday's news conference. "I don't think it's fair to characterize the conflict as two sides: law enforcement versus society. Because it's much more complex than that."

Flynn said while he was pursuing criminal charges against the Buffalo officers, he was also prosecuting at least 39 other individuals accused of breaking the law during their participation in the protests.

"There may be some who say that I'm choosing sides here by arresting and prosecuting these police officers, and I say that's ridiculous," Flynn said.

"My job is to prosecute those who have violated the law. Plain and simple," he said. "And I believe, and I'm alleging, that these two officers violated the law."

Updated 6:43 PM ET, with additional details and to clarify that the 57 members of the Buffalo Police Department's emergency response team resigned from the unit but still remain with the police.

black lives matter protest
Demonstrators gather at the Lincoln Memorial during a protest against police brutality and racism, on June 6, 2020 in Washington, DC. - Demonstrations are being held across the US following the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, while being arrested in Minneapolis, Minnesota. ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images/Getty
2 Buffalo Police Officers Charged With Assault of Protester, Mayor Calls Demonstrator an 'Instigator' | U.S.