BUFFALO, N.Y. — Two suspended Buffalo Police officers who have received national attention after a video was captured showing them shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground in front of Buffalo City Hall on Thursday night were formally charged Saturday.
Aaron Torgalski, 39, and Robert McCabe, 32, were both virtually arraigned Saturday morning with assault in the second degree, a class D felony. Erie County District Attorney John Flynn says there is a specific penal law subsection in New York State that says if the victim is 65 years old or older and the perpetrator is 10 years younger, it's a felony.
Both pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to return on July 20 for a felony hearing. Both have been released on their own recognizance.
Flynn says there is police body cam footage of the incident, but he has not seen it yet. He said he has seen two videos of the incident so far.
The district attorney added that he was concerned about announcing the charges Friday night because of the protests in Niagara Square.
If convicted, both face a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
A large crowd of police officers and firefighters stood in front of Buffalo City Court during the arraignment as a show of support and stayed until the officers left the courthouse.
A judge ruled that the media could only take still photos of the virtual arraignment.
The Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood released the following statement on Saturday:
Today the Erie County District Attorney’s office made the decision to charge two City of Buffalo police officers in connection with an incident that occurred Thursday night in Niagara Square. The officers remain suspended without pay following my order for an immediate internal investigation into the incident. These last few weeks have obviously been a very challenging time not only for our city and community, but for our entire nation, as we grapple with some very critical issues.
My officers have been through, and continue to work through, one of the most difficult times in our history. I stand by the men and women of the Buffalo Police Department and I’m proud of how they have handled the vast majority of the situations and encounters that they have faced. I hope and pray that we can all work and grow together as we move forward in the City of Buffalo.
On Saturday evening, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown in a written statement urged the community to "bridge the gap between our law enforcement personnel and the many residents and peaceful protesters, who I believe all want the same thing: a safe and equitable society, systematic reforms to eliminate prejudice and bias, and a prosperous and unified City of Buffalo."
He stresses due process for the officers and for Martin Gugino's full recovery
"I have directed the Commissioner to further engage the community, as I do the same, so that we can collaboratively and expeditiously realize our shared vision of a Police Department in which every officer is truly a community police officer, with the health, safety, and welfare of our community at the forefront of every decision made by every officer," the mayor said.
Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed the situation during his daily news conference in Albany on Saturday morning. The governor says he thought the mayor and the district attorney did the right thing and applauded them for acting as quickly as they did.
"There's no tolerance for delay in justice in society anymore. Justice delayed is justice denied," Cuomo said.
The Thursday night incident has been viewed millions of times online and resulted in suspensions for both officers by the Buffalo Police Department. The incident occurred after curfew when the ERT was told to remove protesters from the square.
On Friday, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told reporters he does not wish for the officers to be fired but wants an investigation to play out.
Also on Friday, all 57 members of the Buffalo Emergency Response team resigned from the special position after the two officers were suspended without pay.
The man who was pushed to the ground on Thursday night is Martin Gugino. He is recovering at the hospital and is reported to be "alert and oriented" according to his attorney.