In one of the most widely seen acts of police brutality that took place last summer during the historic protests against police brutality, two officers, Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe, violently knocked down 75-year-old Martin Gugino outside Buffalo City Hall on June 4. Demonstrating peacefully against the police killing of George Floyd the previous week, Gugino’s head hit the ground hard, bleeding instantly.
Eight months later, all charges have been dropped against Torgalski and McCabe, when a grand jury dismissed a potential case of felony assault. (In New York State, anyone who attacks a person over 65 and is more than ten years younger can be charged as such.) According to the Buffalo Police Department, the officers remain suspended as they await the outcome of an internal-affairs inquiry, which was on hold as BPD awaited the outcome of the criminal case. Discussing the grand jury’s decision on Thursday, Erie County district attorney John Flynn said he was unable to disclose much from the proceedings, though he “sandbagged nothing.” He added, “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.”
In the wake of the violent incident that left Gugino hospitalized, local protesters and national observers were outraged when the Buffalo Police Department initially claimed the longtime activist had only “tripped and fell.” After Torgalski and McCabe were suspended without pay, all 57 officers in the city’s Emergency Response Team resigned from the squad, which is deployed to quell demonstrations.
As the first anniversary of the police killing of George Floyd approaches, legal developments related to last year’s protest movement continue to reverberate. On January 14, New York State attorney general Letitia James sued the New York City Police Department, alleging there were widespread abuses in the responses to demonstrations last June. On February 3, prosecutors in Wisconsin informed the court that they could not find alleged vigilante murderer Kyle Rittenhouse, after he moved without informing the Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office, citing death threats at his former residence. And on Wednesday, new reporting regarding Derek Chauvin, the fired cop who killed George Floyd, revealed that former attorney general William Barr rejected a plea deal that would have limited his jail time to ten years. Jury selection for his trial for second-degree murder is scheduled to begin on March 8.