Prosecutors are investigating the actions of two Buffalo law enforcement officials who have been suspended with out pay on Thursday night time after a video confirmed them shoving a 75-year-old protester, who was hospitalized with a head damage.
The video taken by WBFO, a neighborhood radio station, reveals the person, recognized on Friday as Martin Gugino, approaching a bunch of officers throughout a protest stemming from the loss of life of George Floyd. He was recognized by the Western New York Peace Center, a nonprofit that named him in a Facebook put up, saying he’s a peace activist and a member.
After the video reveals Mr. Gugino stopping in entrance of the officers to speak, an officer yells “push him back” thrice; one officer pushes his arm into Mr. Gugino’s chest, whereas one other extends his baton towards him with each palms. Mr. Gugino flails backward, touchdown simply out of vary of the digicam, with blood instantly leaking from his proper ear.
An officer leans down to look at him, the video reveals, however one other officer then pulls the primary officer away. Several different officers are seen strolling by the person, immobile on the bottom, with out checking on him.
On Friday, John T. Evans, the president of the Buffalo police union, stated all 57 officers on the Emergency Response Team, a particular squad shaped to answer riots, had resigned from the group in help 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.
“At this time, we can confirm that contingency plans are in place to maintain police services and ensure public safety within our community,” he said. “The Buffalo police continue to actively work with the New York State Police and other cooperating agencies.”
A lawyer for Mr. Gugino described him on Friday as a “longtime peaceful protester, human rights advocate and overall fan of the U.S. Constitution for many years.”
“Mr. Gugino requests privacy for himself and his family as he recovers,” the lawyer, Kelly V. Zarcone, said. “He appreciates all of the well-wishes he has received and requests that any further protests continue to be peaceful.”
The Buffalo Police Department told local news media that five people were arrested during the protest.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York condemned the actions of the officers in the video late Thursday night.
“The incident in Buffalo is wholly unjustified and utterly disgraceful,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “I’ve spoken with City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and we agree that the officers involved should be immediately suspended. Police officers must enforce — not abuse — the law.”
“It sickens me,” the Erie County executive, Mark Poloncarz, said on Twitter of the video, which includes both vulgarity and disturbing images.
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.”
The Buffalo Police Department has been accused in lawsuits in recent years of discriminating against minority groups. In 2018, the department was sued in federal court, accused of discriminating against people of color through traffic enforcement practices that included checkpoints in neighborhoods where a majority of residents are black.
Chinyere Ezie, one of the lawyers litigating the case, said additional plaintiffs had been added to the suit, amended in April. Ms. Ezie said the video showing Mr. Gugino’s treatment highlighted “systemic problems and institutional failures” in the department’s enforcement, even when both the city’s mayor and police chief are black.
“It is a lens applied as to who and what is criminal,” she said. “We are seeing a pandemic of police brutality in a racial justice lens.”
Michael Levenson contributed reporting.