Two cops cleared of Black Lives Matter attack charges
An arbitrator has ruled that two police officers from New York state, who were caught on camera shoving an elderly protester to the ground in a 2020 viral video, did not overstep the mark, with the official describing the use of force as “absolutely legitimate.”
The official characterized Martin Gugino, the 75-year-old man, who had sustained a fractured skull, a brain injury and hearing loss as a result of the fall, as “not an innocent bystander.” According to the 41-page ruling penned by arbitrator Jeffrey Selchick and issued last Friday, officers Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski had no “other viable options other than to move Gugino out of the way of their forward movement.” The arbitrator also argued that the protester failed to comply with an order “to move back, and was making odd physical gestures within a foot” of the officers. Moreover, Selchick did not see any intent to push or drive Gugino to the ground on the part of McCabe and Torgalski.
Officer Torgalski, in turn, testified that the protester had touched his “bare skin,” making him feel concerned that he might contract Covid. According to Officer McCabe, Gugino had also moved his hands close to Torgalski’s weapon. McCabe went on to describe the amount of force he had used against the 75-year-old man as “very little.”
The incident in question occurred in June 2020 in Buffalo, New York, at a Black Lives Matter protest held in the wake of George Floyd’s death. A group of police officers in riot gear moved into the area in front of the City Hall to enforce the 8pm curfew. A protester walked toward the officers, apparently in a bid to confront them. However, moments later one of the policemen pushed the man, causing him to lose balance. Local radio station WBFO captured on video the moment the 75-year-old demonstrator was sent sprawling to the sidewalk, with blood immediately trickling from behind his right ear after the impact. The man, who appeared unconscious and was lying motionless, was taken from the scene by an ambulance.
The footage gained traction online and engendered a great deal of outrage.
Gugino’s lawyer, Melissa D. Wischerath later revealed that her client had had to spend nearly a month in hospital afterwards.
In 2021, a grand jury chose not to indict the two officers, who had felony assault charges hanging over them. As revealed in the latest arbitration documents in November, plaintiff Gugino had effectively “refused to testify” on his own behalf, by failing to appear at the hearing.
However, while the assault charges were out of the way, the two officers were still facing departmental charges filed by the city, and were suspended from duty.
The arbitration was meant to decide whether McCabe and Torgalski could be reinstated. After being cleared by the arbitrator, the two returned to work on Monday, as confirmed by the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association.
The association’s president, John Evans applauded the arbitrator’s ruling, saying that Selchick “saw through the political witch hunt” levied against the officers.
The elderly man’s lawyer, however, insisted that the arbitrator’s decision, in fact, related solely to a “labor dispute,” and had nothing to do with a separate lawsuit that Gugino had filed against the officers and the City of Buffalo. Wischerath said that she was not at all surprised by the arbitrator’s ruling in favor of the police union and the city, as it was the very same entities which selected and paid Selchick. The lawyer described it as a “rubber stamping of police misconduct.”