The two Buffalo police officers seen in a viral video pushing an elderly protester were arraigned Saturday on felony assault charges.
Officers Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe both pleaded not guilty to felony second-degree assault and were released without bail. Both officers are scheduled to return to court on July 20th. If convicted on the charge, the maximum possible sentence is 7 years in prison, the Erie County District Attorney’s Office said Saturday.
In the viral video seen by over 78 million since the June 4th incident, Torgalski and McCabe are seen aggressively moving toward 75-year-old protester Martin Gugino, who fell backward and struck his head on the sidewalk, causing blood to leak from his ear. Torgalski is the officer accused of pushing Gugino on the video, the Buffalo News reports.
— WBFO (@WBFO) June 5, 2020
Both officers were suspended without pay following the incident; soon after, 57 members of the Buffalo Police Department Emergency Response Team resigned in protest of the suspension. Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said at a Saturday news conference that he planned to charge Torgalski and McCabe Friday, but did not want to exacerbate a tense situation following the mass resignation.
Despite the impending criminal charges, Buffalo mayor Byron Brown said at a Friday press conference, “I am not calling for the officers to be fired. I want the investigation to be conducted. I don’t want to jump ahead of the investigation. It is very important for officers to know they are getting due process.”
The DA's office has released photos of the Buffalo cops, Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe, who were charged this morning with second-degree assault for pushing over a 75-year-old man at a protest.
— julia reinstein 🚡 (@juliareinstein) June 6, 2020
Brown also called Gugino an “agitator.” “He was trying to spark up the crowd of people. Those people were there into the darkness. Our concern is when it gets dark, there is a potential for violence,” he said. “There has been vandalism, there have been fires set, there have been stores broken into and looted. According to what was reported to me, that individual was a key and major instigator of people engaging in those activities.”
The charges against the two officers followed New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s demand for an immediate investigation into the incident. “When I saw the video, I got sick to my stomach,” Cuomo said. “I would encourage the district attorney not to do what happened in Minneapolis, which the delay itself caused issues. People don’t want vaguery. They are upset and want answers.”
Gugino, a longtime peace activist, remains hospitalized in critical condition, the Erie County District Attorney’s Office said.