Entire NY emergency response team resigns in support of suspended officers

All 57 members of the Buffalo Police Department Emergency Response Team resigned after two officers were suspended without pay

Ryan W. Miller, Jordan Culver and David Robinson
Democrat & Chronicle

ALBANY, N.Y. — An entire unit of the Buffalo Police Department resigned from their assignments Friday after two officers were suspended amid outcry over video showing officers shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground, according to the Buffalo News and other media outlets.

All 57 of the members of the department's Emergency Response Team resigned from the unit, which responds to riots and other crowd control situations, according to the outlets. The Emergency Response Team members have not quit the police department, but have stepped down from the tactical unit, the Buffalo News reported.

"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."

The man who was pushed to the ground was recovering in a hospital.

Graphic video from WBFO shows the two officers pushing the man down as he approached them in a public square around an 8 p.m. curfew Thursday. The man stumbles back and falls, and the video shows him motionless and bleeding from his head.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz tweeted Friday morning that a hospital official said the man was "alert and oriented."

"That is better news. Let's hope he fully recovers," Poloncarz added.

The Erie County District Attorney's Office tweeted Friday that it was continuing its investigation of the incident and that the man was unable to provide a statement to investigators Thursday night.

The officer's actions quickly drew condemnation from around the state, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo who said the "incident is wholly unjustified and utterly disgraceful."

During a press briefing Friday, Cuomo played video of the incident, watching it wide-eyed before questioning the officers’ actions.

“You see that video and it disturbs your basic sense of decency and humanity,” Cuomo said.

“Why? Why? Why was that necessary? Where was the threat? It was an older gentleman. Where was the threat? And then you just walk by the person when you see blood coming from his head,” he said, describing the scene.

Cuomo also urged the mayor and district attorney in Buffalo to investigate the incident and move expeditiously towards potentially bringing criminal charges against and firing the officers involved.

Cuomo highlighted the incidents before pushing a police reform agenda being considered in the state legislature.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer 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. 

In its initial statement on the incident, the Buffalo Police Department said a person "was injured when he tripped & fell," WIVB-TV reported. A later statement posted on the department's Facebook page said two officers had been suspended without pay and an internal affairs investigation was underway. 

Mayor Byron Brown said in a statement that he and the city's police commissioner were "deeply disturbed by the video." Brown also confirmed the officers' suspension and internal affairs investigation.

"After days of peaceful protests and several meetings between myself, police leadership and members of the community, tonight's event is disheartening," Brown said.

Five protesters were arrested for disorderly conduct, according to NBC affiliate WGRZ-TV. None of the police officers seen in the video has been criminally charged.

The Buffalo Police Department and the New York State Police did not immediately respond to USA TODAY's requests for comment on Thursday.

The injured man was later identified as Martin Gugino, a veteran peace activist involved with the Western New York Peace Center and Latin American Solidarity Committee, said Vicki Ross, the center’s executive director.

“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.

The incident comes after more than a week of protests against police brutality following George Floyd's death in Minneapolis. Floyd, who is black, died after now-fired police officer, who is white, pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as other officers stood by.

Since Floyd's death, which has been ruled a homicide, protesters nationwide have decried police brutality and racial inequality. Some protests have been marred by violence and looting, and police have been caught on camera multiple times using force against protesters – including peaceful ones. 

"I hope to continue to build on the progress we have achieved as we work together to address racial injustice and inequity in the City of Buffalo," Brown said. "My thoughts are with the victim tonight."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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