Outrage erupted after all charges against Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe—the police officers who violently shoved 75-year-old Martin Gugino to the sidewalk outside Buffalo City Hall during a Black Lives Matter protest last year, leaving the long-time peace activist hospitalized with a skull fracture—were dropped Thursday when a grand jury declined to indict the two officers on charges of felony assault.
The blatant and, thanks to video captured by local NPR affiliate WBFO, widely seen act of police brutality took place on June 4, 2020, less than two weeks after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers inspired a nationwide wave of demonstrations against police violence.
As Common Dreams reported at the time, all 57 officers in the Buffalo Police Department’s Emergency Response Team resigned from their positions on the unit the following day to protest the suspension of Torgalski and McCabe. The two officers were immediately suspended without pay before being put back on the payroll in July, despite still facing second-degree assault charges for causing a traumatic brain injury that left Gugino unable to walk for more than one week.
Americans were rightly outraged to see this graphic video of a man being shoved to the ground by Buffalo police.
But despite the video evidence of the officers’ misconduct, a grand jury has dismissed the charges. Interested to hear their rationale. https://t.co/aKceanq2OY
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) February 12, 2021
Torgalski and McCabe “remain suspended from duty pending an internal investigation into the June 4 incident,” CNN reported Friday. As New York magazine noted, “the internal-affairs inquiry… was on hold as BPD awaited the outcome of the criminal case.”
Discussing the grand jury’s decision, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said during a news conference Thursday that he “sandbagged nothing” when presenting the case to the jurors.
“I went into that grand jury, I put all relevant evidence into that grand jury,” said Flynn. “I put multiple witnesses in that grand jury. I put everything that was not cumulative into that grand jury. And you got my word on that.”
Gugino on Thursday told Spectrum News Buffalo, a CNN affiliate, that he was “a little surprised” by the grand jury’s dismissal of the case.
“I think there was pressure on [Flynn] to get at least an indictment, an expectation that the justice system would do something to try to change the direction of the police department, change the reality of the police in the street,” said Gugino. “I think it will happen that people are disappointed that this misfired.”
Gugino’s prediction proved correct, as a number of observers expressed disgust over the grand jury’s refusal to indict Torgalski and McCabe.
Thinking of Martin Gugino, a 75 year old man who was shoved at a protest by Buffalo police last summer and instantly cracked his head on the cement. It’s clear on tape, but police first said he “tripped and fell” and now they’ve been cleared of potential felony assault charges.
— Daniela Lapidous (@danielalapidous) February 12, 2021
“Despite the video evidence of the officers’ misconduct, a grand jury has dismissed the charges,” tweeted former secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro. “Interested to hear their rationale.”