Police and firefighters gathered outside Buffalo, New York courthouses to support Officers Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe as they were arraigned on charges related to pushing 75-year-old Martin Gugino during protests Thursday night outside Buffalo City Hall. One video showed a large gathering of supporters outside the Erie County District Attorney's Office cheering as the officers left the building. Torgalaski and McCabe have also been suspended without pay, and their entire unit resigned Friday as another show of support.
Torglaski and McCabe were arrested Saturday morning and charged with second-degree assault. The two were arraigned virtually in city court, following social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic. Their supporters used a black umbrella and a black sheet to keep WGRZ cameras from getting new footage of the officers, reports CNBC. Many of the supporters wore shirts showing support for police, including phrases like "We back the blue."
Cheers erupted in the crowd as suspended BPD police officers Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski leave the Erie County District Attorney's Office after being arraigned on one count each of second degree assault. Erie County DA Flynn will speak shortly. pic.twitter.com/Udpej2C4LJ— News 4 Buffalo (@news4buffalo) June 6, 2020
Footage of two officers pushing Gugino shocked social media Thursday night. Gugino was knocked to the ground, with blood visible from his head. Other members of the Buffalo Police Department Emergency Response Team were seen walking past Gugino, without offering to help him up. The original video of the incident, published by WBFO and filmed minutes after the city's curfew expired, now has over 79 million views on Twitter.
"You take him away and arrest him," Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said Saturday, reports WIVB. "Simple as that. You don't take a baton and shove him along with the officer next to him using his right hand, shoving him." The officers both pleaded not guilty and were released from custody. Their felony hearing is scheduled for July 20.
NOW: Large crowd in front of Buffalo City Court to support two suspended police officers who are expected to be charged this morning. We are live on https://t.co/JK07GjjTeC and Channel 2 Daybreak. https://t.co/TrVyO1r2kq pic.twitter.com/ZMPNyOL4pA— WGRZ (@WGRZ) June 6, 2020
After the officers were suspended, the other 57 officers in the emergency response unit resigned from the unit to show their support. The union president said they were only following orders to clear the square after the curfew expired. The officers were "simply doing their job," Buffalo Police Benevolent Association President John Evans told the Buffalo News Friday. "I don't know how much contact was made. He did slip in my estimation. He fell backwards."
Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood said Saturday there is an ongoing internal investigation into the incident. "My officers have been through, and continue to work through, one of the most difficult times in our history," Lockwood said. "I stand by the men and women of the Buffalo Police Department and I’m proud of how they have handled the vast majority of the situations and encounters that they have faced. I hope and pray that we can all work and grow together as we move forward in the City of Buffalo."
Black Lives Matter protests in Buffalo started last weekend, following the death of George Floyd. The 46-year-old was killed in Minneapolis police custody on May 25. The officer caught on video with his knee on Floyd's neck for over eight minutes has been charged with third-degree murder, second-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.