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Prosecutors are investigating the actions of two Buffalo police officers who were suspended without pay Thursday night after a video showed them hustling a 75-year-old protester hospitalized for a head injury.
Video taken by WBFO, a local radio station, shows the man, identified on Friday as Martin Gugino, approaching a group of officers during a protest following the death of George Floyd. He was identified by the Western New York Peace Center, a non-profit organization that named him in a Facebook message, claiming that he is a peace activist and a member.
After the video shows Mr. Gugino stopping in front of the police to speak, a policeman shouts “pushes him away” three times; an officer pushes his arm into Mr. Gugino’s chest, while another stretches his stick toward him with both hands. Mr. Gugino struggles backwards, landing just out of range of the camera, blood immediately spilling from his right ear.
An officer leans over to examine it, shows the video, but another officer then takes the co-pilot away. Several other officers are seen walking near the man, motionless on the ground, without watching him.
The Erie County Attorney’s Office said in a statement Friday that prosecutors are investigating the incident. He said Mr. Gugino was unable to provide a statement to investigators on Thursday evening at the Erie County Medical Center, where he was taken for treatment for a head injury. On Friday, Mr. Gugino was in serious but stable condition and was alert and oriented, according to a spokesman for the hospital.
The video, which quickly spread to social media, added to an increasing number of videos from across the country that showed Agents Responding to Protests Against Police Violence with More Police Violence The fury of online supporters of the protests was exacerbated by the Police Department’s initial assertion that it “tripped and fell“, A description in direct contradiction with the video.
Buffalo Police Union President John T. Evans said Friday that the 57 officers in the emergency response team, a special squad formed to respond to the riots, had resigned from their positions on the team. to support the suspended officers, according to The Buffalo News. The officers remain members of the department.
“These officers were simply following the orders of Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia to clean up the place,” Evans told The News. “It doesn’t clearly specify the square of the men, 50 and under or 15 to 40 years old. They were just doing their job. I don’t know how many contacts were made. It slipped into my estimate. It fell back . “
The union and the Buffalo Police Service did not respond to comments requesting comments on Friday. Byron Brown, the mayor of Buffalo, said the city is aware of the development.
“For the moment, we can confirm that emergency plans are in place to maintain the police force and ensure public safety in our community,” he said. “The Buffalo police continue to work actively with the New York State police and other cooperating agencies.”
A lawyer for Gugino described him on Friday as “a longtime peaceful protester, human rights defender and general fan of the United States Constitution for many years”.
“Sir. Gugino is asking for the privacy of himself and his family as he recovers,” said lawyer Kelly V. Zarcone. “He appreciates all the wishes he has received and requests that any new protest continues to be peaceful. ”
The Buffalo Police Service told local media that five people were arrested during the protest.
New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo condemned the officers’ actions in the video Thursday evening.
“The Buffalo incident is totally unjustified and completely shameful,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I have spoken with the mayor of the city of Buffalo, Byron Brown, and we agree that the officers involved should be immediately suspended. Police must uphold – not abuse – the law. “
“It makes me sick,” said Erie County Director Mark Poloncarz. on Twitter video, which includes both vulgarity and disturbing images.
Mayor Brown said in a statement that he was disturbed by the episode and that the city’s police commissioner had ordered an immediate investigation.
“After days of peaceful protests and several meetings between myself, police leaders and members of the community, this evening’s event is disheartening,” he said.
Like other New York cities, Buffalo widely deployed law enforcement personnel during the protests. On June 1, officers in armored vehicles fired tear gas after asking a crowd to disperse. Several stores were looted; a vehicle entered a group of police officers, injuring two; and two people were hit by gunfire.
The following day, Mr. Poloncarz said that he was imposing a curfew because of these events, when a “peaceful demonstration turned into violence”.
In response, the New York Civil Liberties Union expressed concern that the curfew would be applied disproportionately to non-white residents of the state. John Curr, the director of his section in Buffalo, spoke on Thursday of the treatment of Mr. Gugino, saying that the police “occasional cruelty” was “heartbreaking and unacceptable”.
“Suspensions and an investigation are already underway, but there is not much more to be known about what happened,” Curr said in a statement. “The police cannot continue to hide behind the lie they protect and serve.”
Curr said city leaders “must take this as a wake-up call and seriously tackle police violence during this week’s protest and the culture of impunity that led to this incident”.
The Buffalo Police Service has been charged in recent years with charges of discrimination against minority groups. In 2018, the department was sued in federal court, accused of discrimination against people of color through traffic control practices that included checkpoints in neighborhoods where the majority of residents are black.
Chinyere Ezie, one of the lawyers for the case, said that other complainants were added to the trial, which was amended in April. Ezie said video showing Mr. Gugino’s treatment highlights “systemic problems and institutional failures” in applying ministry rules, even when city mayor and police chief are black .
“It is a lens applied to who and what is criminal,” she said. “We are witnessing a pandemic of police violence from the perspective of racial justice.”
Michael Levenson contributed to the report.