An arbitrator rules that two Buffalo, NY police officers did not violate department guidelines on the use of force when they pushed a 75-year-old protester to the ground in June 2020, during racial injustice protests after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The episode gained national attention when a news crew captured video of Martin Gugino being pushed by Officers Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski through downtown Buffalo, as crowd control officers in anti-tank gear riot allowed protesters an 8 p.m. curfew.
Gugino, who was pushed backwards, began bleeding after hitting his head on the pavement and spent about a month in hospital with a fractured skull and brain damage.
Buffalo police first said in a statement that one person “was injured while tripping and falling,” before video of the incident was released.
In a decision Friday, arbitrator Jeffrey Selchick wrote, “Upon review, there is no evidence to support a claim that the Respondents [police officers] had other viable options than moving Gugino out of their forward movement.”
The level of force used by the officers was justified because Gugino refused to comply with orders to leave the scene, acted erratically and walked directly in front of McCabe, according to Selchick.
“The use of force employed by the defendants reflected no intention on their part to do more than remove Gugino from them,” he wrote.
McCabe and Torgalski were suspended without pay and arrested days after the incident, but last year a grand jury declined to indict them and the charges were dropped.
A lawyer for Gugino, who sued the city, told the Buffalo News the decision had no bearing on the lawsuit.
“We are not aware of any instances where this arbitrator has ruled against on-duty police officers, so his decision here on behalf of the police was not only expected by us, but was certainly expected by the union and the city who selected and paid for it,” Melissa Wischerath told the newspaper.
Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said in a statement that he would reinstate the two officers on Monday, the newspaper reported.
Email messages seeking comment were left Sunday with an attorney representing the city, which argued the disciplinary charges, and the Buffalo police union.