BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Prosecutors investigated Friday after a video captured a police officer in Buffalo shoving a 75-year-old man who then falls and cracks his head, a confrontation that resulted in the suspension of two officers.
Video from public radio station WBFO of Thursday night’s encounter, which happened near the conclusion of protests over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, quickly sparked outrage.
It shows an older white 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, who also appear to be white, pushed Gugino backward and he hit 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.
“Why? Why was that necessary? Where was the threat?” asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo at his daily briefing Friday. The governor said he spoke to the Gugino, who had been 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,” according to a Friday morning tweet by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
“Let’s hope he fully recovers,” Poloncarz said.
The video immediately generated outrage, including among elected officials, despite lacking the racial element that made the death of Floyd — a black man who died after a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck for several minutes — such a flashpoint.
The police commissioner suspended two police officers without pay, said Mayor Byron Brown. Police officials were expected to provide more information at a news conference on Friday afternoon.
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.
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 an internal investigation was opened.
“When I saw the video, certainly, it was incredibly distressing and very disappointing. You don’t want to see anything like that,” 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 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.
This story has been updated to correct that the source of the video was WBFO, not WFBO.