Grand jury declines charges against Buffalo officers in injury of protester


A grand jury dismissed the case against two Buffalo, New York, police officers who were charged last year after video showed an elderly protester being shoved to the ground during a demonstration.

Officers Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski had been charged with felony second-degree assault after June 4 protest, which was one of many across the country sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis about a week earlier.

Video appeared to show the protester, longtime social justice activist Martin Gugino, who was 75 at the time, being shoved by officers and falling backwards. A pool of blood was then seen by his head. Gugino’s lawyer said he suffered a fractured skull and he was hospitalized until the end of the June.

McCabe and Torgalski were suspended after the incident.

“At the end of the grand jury, the grand jurors voted to no-bill the case. Which means that they dismissed the case,” Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said at a news conference Thursday.

Gugino told WGRZ in a phone interview Thursday that he accepts the grand jury’s decision.

He said he didn’t expect to be injured that day, “but this is what happened, you know? And it’s interesting, and it’s another fact.”

The shove occurred after the city’s 8 p.m. curfew.

Gugino told reporters in October he thinks the curfew was wrong, and he focused on larger changes than the two officers. “Any of these officers would have done the same thing,” he said. “These were not two especially bad officers; it’s the whole system is wrong. They’re all taught to do the wrong thing.”

The president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association said Thursday the union was “extremely pleased” with the dismissal of 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,” the union president, John Evans, said in a statement.

Police say the two officers remain suspended pending the outcome of an internal investigation, NBC affiliate WGRZ of Buffalo reported.

Flynn, the district attorney, repeated his belief that the officers were appropriately charged.

He said he felt that the actions of the officers by themselves didn’t necessarily rise to a felony, but under New York State law, if there is an intentional act and the victim is 65 or older, it is a felony.

“There was probable cause at that time to charge that offense, and I stand by that. I make no apologies for it,” Flynn said Thursday. “And if I had to go back over again, I’d do the same thing. Without any question about it.”

It was not clear why the jurors voted to no-bill, or dismiss, the case.

Flynn said that grand jury proceedings are secret, and he could not comment on things like discussions or if any questions were asked.

Flynn did say that the video was and remains the main piece of evidence.

“This was not the JFK assassination, OK? This was not that complex of a case,” Flynn said. “The video that was taken speaks for itself.”

In June, Buffalo’s mayor said he was “deeply disturbed” by the incident, and New York Mayor Andrew Cuomo said that after watching the video, he “was sick to my stomach.”

The protest outside Buffalo’s City Hall in June occurred in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white police officer in Minneapolis kneeled on his neck for several minutes.

Floyd’s death, which was captured on video, sparked outrage and protests across the nation. Four officers in that case have been fired and criminally charged, including Derek Chauvin who has been charged with murder.

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