Video of Buffalo police shoving 75-year-old man sparks outrage

Prosecutors were investigating Friday after a video captured police in Buffalo, N.Y., shoving an elderly protester who then fell and cracked his head on Thursday night, a confrontation that resulted in the suspension of two officers.

Prosecutors investigating 2 officers, who have been suspended without pay

An elderly man bleeds from his ears after being shoved by riot police in Buffalo on Thursday during a protest against the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Two officers involved in the incident were charged with assault on Saturday. (WBFO via Reuters TV)

Prosecutors were investigating Friday after a video captured police in Buffalo, N.Y., shoving an elderly protester who then fell and cracked his head on Thursday night, a confrontation that resulted in the suspension of two officers.

Video from public radio station WBFO of the encounter, which happened near the conclusion of protests over the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, quickly sparked outrage. It shows a man identified as Martin Gugino approaching a line of helmeted officers holding batons as they clear demonstrators from Niagara Square around the time of an 8 p.m. curfew. Two officers push Gugino backward, and he hits his head on the pavement. Blood spills as officers walk past.

One officer leans down to check on the injured man before he is urged along by another officer, the video shows.

Buffalo Police initially said in a statement that a person "was injured when he tripped & fell," WIVB-TV reported, but Capt. Jeff Rinaldo later told the TV station that an internal affairs investigation was opened. On Friday, Buffalo's police commissioner suspended the two officers without pay, Mayor Byron Brown said.

WATCH | Graphic content warning: Elderly man knocked down, starts bleeding:

GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING: Elderly man shoved and injured by Buffalo police in incident caught on video  

3 years ago
Duration 0:35
The man was at a protest that was nearing its end when he was pushed by police and hit his head on the sidewalk. Two police officers have been suspended.  

"Why? Why was that necessary? Where was the threat?" asked New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at his daily briefing Friday. The governor said he spoke to Gugino, who was hospitalized in serious condition. "It's just fundamentally offensive and frightening. How did we get to this place?"

A hospital official said the man was "alert and oriented," Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz tweeted Friday morning.

Poloncarz, at a briefing later in the day, wished Gugino a "speedy recovery" and said the incident "created a black mark, a stain on the city of Buffalo."

The confrontation raised concerns about more possible flare-ups in Buffalo this weekend, especially after all 57 members of the Buffalo Police Department Emergency Response Team resigned from the unit after the officers were suspended, according to local media. The resigning officers keep their jobs.

"Fifty-seven resigned in disgust because of the treatment of two of their members, who were simply executing orders," said John Evans, president of the Police Benevolent Association, according to local TV station WGRZ.

Brown said contingency plans are in place "ensure public safety." Additional state troopers will be in the city through the weekend to assist Buffalo police, according to a state police spokesperson, and Brown said they are working with other agencies.

Veteran activist a 'peaceable person'

The district attorney's office "continues to investigate the incident," officials said in a news release, but the victim could not talk to investigators Thursday night.

Gugino is a veteran peace activist involved with the Western New York Peace Center and Latin American Solidarity Committee, said Vicki Ross, the centre's executive director. His Twitter timeline includes tweets and retweets supportive of progressive causes and critical of police. One tweet from Wednesday read: "The cops should not have clubs. And should not be in riot gear. The National Guard should arrest the police."

"I can assure you, Martin is a peaceable person," Ross said. "There is no way that he was doing anything to accost or hurt. He made a judgment to stay out after the curfew because he feels that our civil liberties are so in danger, which they most certainly are."

Ross said Gugino has been undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

"When I saw the video, certainly, it was incredibly distressing and very disappointing. You don't want to see anything like that," Mayor Brown told WIVB-TV on Friday.

The office of state Attorney General Letitia James tweeted that officials there were aware of the video. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, called for an investigation, according to a statement reported by WIVB-TV.

"The casual cruelty demonstrated by Buffalo police officers tonight is gut-wrenching and unacceptable," John Curr, the Buffalo chapter director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement, adding that it should be a "wake-up call" for city leaders to address police violence.

Indianapolis police to review training amid baton use probe

It was not the only incident in the U.S. of use of force raising questions this week. In Indianapolis, the city's police chief said Friday that his department is taking a look at officers' training for responding to heated public protests while it investigates four officers caught on video using batons and pepper balls to subdue two women at a protest last weekend.

Chief Randal Taylor said the four officers involved in Sunday night's incident have been reassigned to support duties and will have no contact with the public as the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department conducts an internal investigation.

The video recorded by WISH-TV shows a black woman who was being held from behind by a white male officer escaping his grasp and then being surrounded by several other officers. There are audible pops heard, and the video shows several clouds of spray near the woman that are believed to have been caused by detonated pepper balls. Two officers strike her with batons until she falls to the ground, and she is then pinned face down by a baton at the back of her neck.

A second woman, who is white, is seen and heard shouting, "Why her? Why her?" Another officer rushes the second woman and shoves her to the ground, where officers subdued her.

The video does not show the events that preceded the incident. It happened during one of numerous demonstrations in Indianapolis that were part of the nationwide protests against the killing of Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer used his knee to pin down Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd pleaded for air and eventually stopped moving.

Taylor, who announced that probe Monday, said he hoped to have some results next week, and said officials are looking at whether the officers' conduct was "reasonable." He said the actions he saw on the video were worrisome.

"I can promise that regardless of the outcome of that investigation we will be looking at a retrain for that kind of scenario. I don't like what I saw, but I don't have all the details yet, either," Taylor said at a news conference.

"I think we have to look at the training scenario that looks at what happened there to see if there would be a different response."

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said he found the video troubling, adding, "I don't think there's anyone that should be able to watch that video and not be moved to emotion."

Hogsett also released details from a proposed revision of the department's use-of-force policy drafted by Taylor at Hogsett's request last month. Those changes include adopting California's standards for use of deadly force, explicitly prohibiting chokeholds by officers and a renewed focus on police training to de-escalate potentially volatile situations.

With files from CBC News