Buffalo Police Officers Suspended After Shoving 75-Year-Old Protester – Smart Media Magazine

Buffalo Police Officers Suspended After Shoving 75-Year-Old Protester

Prosecutors are investigating the actions of two Buffalo police officers who were suspended without pay on Thursday night after a video showed them shoving a 75-year-old protester, who was hospitalized with a head injury.

The video taken by WBFO, a local radio station, shows the man, identified on Friday as Martin Gugino, approaching a group of officers during a protest stemming from the death of George Floyd. He was identified by the Western New York Peace Center, a nonprofit that named him in a Facebook post, saying he is a peace activist and a member.

After the video shows Mr. Gugino stopping in front of the officers to talk, an officer yells “push him back” three times; one officer pushes his arm into Mr. Gugino’s chest, while another extends his baton toward him with both hands. Mr. Gugino flails backward, landing just out of range of the camera, with blood immediately leaking from his right ear.

An officer leans down to examine him, the video shows, but another officer then pulls the first officer away. Several other officers are seen walking by the man, motionless on the ground, without checking on him.

On Friday, John T. Evans, the president of the Buffalo police union, said all 57 officers on the Emergency Response Team, a special squad formed to respond to riots, had resigned from the team in support of the suspended officers, according to The Buffalo News. The officers remain employed by the department.

“These officers were simply following orders from Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia to clear the square,” Mr. Evans told The News. “It doesn’t specify clear the square of men, 50 and under or 15 to 40. They were simply doing their job. I don’t know how much contact was made. He did slip, in my estimation. He fell backwards.”

The Erie County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement on Friday that prosecutors were investigating the incident. It said Mr. Gugino was unable to provide a statement to investigators on Thursday night at the Erie County Medical Center, where he was taken for treatment for the head injury. On Friday, Mr. Gugino was in serious but stable condition and was alert and oriented, according to a hospital spokesman.

The video, which rapidly spread across social media, added to a growing body of videos from across the nation that showed officers responding to protests against police violence with more police violence. Fury among online supporters of the protests was heightened by the Police Department’s initial claim that he “tripped and fell,” a description at direct odds with the video.

The officers’ union and the Buffalo Police Department did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on Friday. Byron Brown, the mayor of Buffalo, said the city was aware of the development.

Mr. Brown, the mayor, said in a statement that he was disturbed by the episode and that the city’s police commissioner had ordered an immediate investigation.

“After days of peaceful protests and several meetings between myself, police leadership and members of the community, tonight’s event is disheartening,” he said.

Like other cities in New York, Buffalo has widely deployed law enforcement during the protests. On June 1, officers in armored vehicles fired tear gas after asking a crowd to disperse. Several stores were looted; a vehicle drove into a group of police officers, injuring two; and two people were struck by gunfire.

The next day, Mr. Poloncarz said he was imposing a curfew because of those events, when a “peaceful protest devolved into violence.”

In response, the New York Civil Liberties Union raised concerns that the curfew would be disproportionately enforced against nonwhite residents of the state. On Thursday, John Curr, the director of its Buffalo chapter, referred to the treatment of Mr. Gugino, saying the “casual cruelty” of the officers was “gut-wrenching and unacceptable.”

“Suspensions and an investigation are already in order, but there is little more we have to see to know what took place,” Mr. Curr said in a statement. “Police officers cannot continue to hide behind the lie that they are protecting and serving.”

Mr. Curr said city leaders “need to take this as a wake-up call and seriously address the police violence during this week’s protest and the culture of impunity that led to this incident.”

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