A grand jury has declined to indict two New York police officers who were recorded in a video last year during a clash with a 75-year-old man involved in a Black Lives Matter protest, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn announced on Feb. 11.
Buffalo officers Robert McCabe, 32, and Aaron Torgalski, 39, were among dozens of police force members who had been attempting to clear protests in downtown Buffalo in June ahead of an 8 p.m. curfew.
The officers could be seen on camera shoving the man, Martin Gugino—a Catholic retiree who friends describe as a veteran peace and social justice activist—to the ground after telling him to get back when he approached the crowd of officers in front of city hall.
After he was pushed, Gugino lay on the ground, and could be seen bleeding. He spent around a month in the hospital with a fractured skull and brain injury after the incident.
McCabe and Torgalski were initially suspended, arrested, and charged with assault days after the altercation. They pleaded not guilty.
Speaking at a news conference Thursday afternoon, Flynn said he had done everything possible to bring a strong case against the officers but added that he did not believe their actions rose to the level of a felony.
He noted that state law requires prosecutors to bring charges when a victim is at least 65 and suspected perpetrators are at least 10 years younger.
“This was not the J.F.K. assassination,” Flynn said, adding, “This was not that complex of a case. The video that was taken speaks for itself.”
“I’ve got 28 years as a naval officer, and I live and breathe every day by the core values: honor, courage, and commitment,” Flynn said.
“And integrity happens to be a big thing with me. And I’m sitting here right now talking into every one of these mics, looking at every one of these cameras right here, looking at each one of you in the eye right now, and I’m telling you that I sandbagged nothing.”
He continued, “I went into that grand jury, I put all relevant evidence into that grand jury. 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.”
Flynn added that national attention on the case had no influence on his decision to charge the officers right away.
In the wake of the officers’ suspensions, nearly 60 other members of the department’s crowd control unit said they would no longer serve on the unit, effectively shutting it down.
The president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, John Evans, said in a statement that they are “extremely pleased” with the grand jury’s decision to dismiss the charges.
“As we have stated all along, Officers McCabe and Torgalski were simply following departmental procedures and the directives of their superiors to clear Niagara Square despite working under extremely challenging circumstances,” Evans said.
“The Buffalo PBA remains in staunch support of Officers McCabe and Torgalski.”
Meanwhile, Gugino told WKBW on Thursday that he was surprised that the charges against the officers were dropped.
“It’s a surprise and I think the whole world is going to be surprised,” he said, adding that the ruling will show other officers that what occurred is now justified.