Buffalo’s Emergency Response team resign in protest following the suspension of two fellow officers caught on video pushing Martin Gugino to the ground suffering grave injury.
All 57 of the members of the Buffalo Police Department‘s Emergency Response Team resigned Friday from the unit which responds to riots and other crowd control situations in protest following the suspension of two fellow officers seen pushing back a protester who’d approached them just after curfew, Thursday night.
The two un-named members of Buffalo Police’s riot response team were suspended without pay late Thursday after they were involved in pushing 75-year-old protester, Martin Gugino of Amherst to the ground as they were clearing the area in front of Buffalo City Hall at the emergency curfew. The Erie County District Attorney’s Office is investigating the incident. No charges have been filed, Buffalo News reports.
The Emergency Response Team members have not quit the police department, but have stepped down from the tactical unit, according to sources cited by the media outlet.
The union representing Buffalo police officers told its rank-and-file members Friday that the union would no longer pay for legal fees to defend police officers related to the protests which began Saturday in downtown Buffalo and have continued on and off, according to one source. The union is upset with the treatment of the two officers who were suspended Thursday.
‘Our position is these officers were simply following orders from Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia to clear the square,’ said Buffalo Police Benevolent Association President John Evans. ‘It doesn’t specify clear the square of men, 50 and under or 15 to 40. They were simply doing their job. I don’t know how much contact was made. He did slip in my estimation. He fell backwards.’
A video posted by WBFO late Thursday night showed the officers pushing the man before he fell backward and hitting his head on the sidewalk. Gugino was taken to Erie County Medical Center, where he was in stable but serious condition early Friday morning.
Reiterated Evans: ‘We stand behind those officers 100%.’
The PBA will pay for any defense costs for the two officers, Evans said, but not for any members of the Emergency Response Team or SWAT in regards to the protesting.
Evans said the two officers, whose names have circulated widely on social media, have been harassed. An online change petition to demand the firing of the officer seen pushing the 75 year old, Officer Aaron Torgalski has to date been signed by 336,502 persons.
The actions of the officers drew swift condemnation from people across the nation, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Tweeted Cuomo in a statement: ‘This incident is wholly unjustified and utterly disgraceful. I’ve spoken with Buffalo @MayorByronBrown and we agree that the officers involved should be immediately suspended pending a formal investigation. Police Officers must enforce — NOT ABUSE — the law.’
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz responded to the emergency unit’s resignation saying that ‘if they’ve resigned, I’m exceptionally disappointed by it because it indicates to me that they did not see anything wrong with the actions that occurred that night.’
Attorney General Letitia James released a statement about Thursday’s incident: ‘The video captured on June 4 shows what appears to be a horrific display of abuse and lack of concern for New Yorkers by the Buffalo Police Department. My office supports the investigation by the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, and we stand by ready to assist should they need it.’