The two Buffalo, New York, police officers who were filmed shoving an elderly protester to the ground during a Black Lives Matter rally in the summer of 2020 were officially cleared of any wrongdoing by an arbitrator on Friday, ensuring the pair will face no disciplinary measures for what was widely seen as a grotesque abuse of power against an unarmed civilian.
According to arbitrator Jeffrey Selchick, Buffalo Police Department officers Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski acted responsibly and within their authority when they pushed 75-year-old Martin Gugino to the ground as he approached them during a June 2020 demonstration against police brutality.
“Upon review, there is no evidence to sustain any claim that [McCabe and Torgalski] had any other viable options other than to move Gugino out of the way of their forward movement,” Selchick wrote, adding that “the use of force employed by [the officers] reflected no intent on their part to do more than to move Gugino away from them.”
Footage of the officers pushing Gugino concluded with the 75-year-old demonstrator lying prone on the ground, bleeding from his ears, while offers stepped over his motionless body. And despite zero indication from the footage that Gugino posed any threat to the helmeted, truncheon-wielding police, Selchick determined that their actions were “absolutely legitimate” and constituted a sincere effort to keep their weapons secure from a dangerous interloper.
“Something wasn’t right and I don’t know what this gentlemen is capable of, but something [was] off about the situation that makes you feel uneasy,” Torgalski testified, according to the arbitrator’s report. “I steadied my right arm and attempted to get him out of my space and push him away.”
Following his injury, Gugino spent weeks recovering in the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a fractured skull and brain injury. The officers were temporarily suspended without pay and were initially at risk of felony assault charges until a grand jury declined to file against them. Now cleared of any departmental wrongdoing, the pair are scheduled to return to active duty this week. Gugino has also filed a lawsuit against the department and the city of Buffalo, which is still pending.