It was a shove quickly shared and seen by millions of people around the world. Two officers with the Buffalo Police Department (BPD) were caught on camera pushing 75-year-old Martin Gugino backwards and apparently causing him to fall to the ground.
Afterwards, as he lay inert, blood can be seen pouring out of his ear and forming a small pool of blood on the pavement.
With atypical quickness for these sorts of events, the two officers involved in the Thursday night incident were swiftly suspended without pay, according to Buffalo Police Capt. Jeff Rinaldo.
On Friday, 57 of their colleagues resigned from the BPD’s Emergency Response Team (ERT), but not to protest Gugino’s treatment.
That’s the first catch.
Rather, those officers volunteered a demotion of sorts in order to protest the punishment meted out to the two officers in the video.
“I’m told the entire @BPDAlertsEmergency Response Team has resigned from the team, a total of 57 officers, as a show of support for the officers who are suspended without pay after shoving Martin Gugino, 75,” noted local CBS affiliate WIVB reporter Dave Greber. “They are still employed, but no longer on ERT.”
Catch number two: the 57 former ERT members are still employed by the BPD; they remain on the force but not the specialized team. They’re still receiving paychecks and can apply for other duties but just won’t be part of the ERT.
“If they resigned, I’m exceptionally disappointed by it because it indicates to me that they did not see anything wrong with the actions last night,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz during a press conference on Friday afternoon.
“I’m disappointed to hear if the officers did resign, because they are swearing, when they become an officer, to serve and protect, and to uphold the law,” he continued. “It’s not to uphold the laws as they choose in that instant. It’s to uphold the law.”
Poloncarz went on to say that police are not only there to deter criminals but to make sure that police themselves “don’t engage in activity that could be criminal in nature.”
On the other hand, Buffalo Police Benevolent Association President John Evans supported all of the officers.
“Fifty-seven resigned in disgust because of the treatment of two of their members, who were simply executing orders,” he told the Investigative Post, an online news outlet focused on Buffalo.
In a Friday entry on the police union’s page, Evans made more or less the same comments: “These guys did nothing but do what they were ordered to do. This is disgusting !!!”
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said he was aware of the resignations but, unlike Poloncarz, ventured no criticism of the 57 officers’ protests–instead stressing that the city would strive to meet certain, unidentified public safety needs.
“The City of Buffalo is aware of developments related to the work assignments of certain members of the Buffalo police force,” he said. “At this time, we can confirm that contingency plans are in place to maintain police services and ensure public safety within our community. The Buffalo police continue to actively work with the New York State Police and other cooperating agencies.”
In a statement obtained by Law&Crime, New York State Attorney General Letitia James said that her office was ready to work on behalf of Gugino, a well-known peace activist in the Buffalo Niagara region.
“The video captured on June 4th shows what appears to be a horrific display of abuse and lack of concern for New Yorkers by the Buffalo Police Department,” she said. “My office supports the investigation by the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, and we stand by ready to assist should they need it.”
Notably, some members of the Buffalo Police Department initially told the press that Gugino had simply tripped on his own. Many have wondered how this incident might have played out without the advent of easily-accessible-and-shareable video footage.
Poloncarz also apprised the severity and gravity of the incident.
“Buffalo has become a flashpoint with regards to the issue of police brutality,” he said–adding that local and state officials were worried about the impact the shove would have on the region.
Although the suspended officers have the support of their colleagues, the same does not appear to be true for local officials.
“I understand from media accounts today that you have suspended (without pay) the two officers involved in this incident. Erie County Legislature Chair April Baskin wrote to Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood on Friday. “Suspension is not enough.”
[image via screengrab/WBFO]
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