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Buffalo Police officers who pushed 75-year-old during Black Lives Matter protest cleared of wrongdoing

By Mirna Alsharif and Eric Levenson, CNN

Two Buffalo, New York, police officers who pushed a 75-year-old protester to the ground in June 2020, fracturing the man’s skull, were cleared of wrongdoing by an arbitrator on Friday.

In the ruling, arbitrator Jeffrey M. Selchick found officers Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe not guilty of three charges of violating police and city rules, saying their use of force in pushing the protester was “absolutely legitimate.” The arbitrator also wrote that the protester, Martin Gugino, was not complying with their orders to leave the area and “was definitely not an innocent bystander.”

In the arbitration proceeding, both officers downplayed the force they used. Officer McCabe testified that he gave Gugino a “nudge” in an attempt to “get him away from our personal space. We had no intention on injuring him,” according to the arbitrator’s report; Torgalski testified that he “didn’t make solid contact with (Gugino).”

Gugino was subpoenaed to testify in the proceeding but declined to appear, the report notes.

An attorney for Gugino, Melissa D. Wischerath, said in a statement she was not surprised by the arbitration ruling and noted that the ruling is separate from a civil lawsuit Gugino has filed against the city and police. “This private mediation should not be confused with an independent, transparent and public court proceeding,” she said.

The incident occurred on June 4, 2020, during a Black Lives Matter demonstration after the police killing of George Floyd. As police moved to clear Buffalo’s Niagara Square after an 8 p.m. ET curfew, Gugino walked up close to several of the officers. Two officers then pushed him, and Gugino stumbled backwards and fell to the ground, cracking the back of his head on the concrete.

Gugino was taken to the hospital with a fractured skull, his attorney said. Police initially said Gugino tripped and fell, but video of the incident showed he was shoved by the officers.

The video led to widespread condemnation, and the officers were suspended and charged with assault. Yet, a grand jury declined to indict the officers in February 2021 and the charges were then dismissed, according to Erie County District Attorney John Flynn, who expressed disappointment in the decision.

“I’m not going to tell you that in my opinion the right thing happened here, because I still believe that a crime was committed,” Flynn said then.

On its website, the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, the union representing Buffalo’s officers, praised the arbitrator and said he “saw through the political witch hunt” against the officers.

“True law enforcement and politics don’t mix. That is clear. It is great that they are back to work !!! Wish the process didn’t take so long…..they’ve been put through almost 2 years of hell,” the association wrote.

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