Grand Jury Declines to Indict Officers Who Shoved Catholic Activist Martin Gugino, 75, During Protest

Officers Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski each faced a felony second-degree assault charge in Martin Gugino’s fall, which occurred while Gugino was participating during a protest in response to the death of George Floyd.

A grand jury has dismissed the charges against the two police officers who shoved a 75-old-protestor to the ground during a Black Lives Matter protest last June in Buffalo, New York, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn announced Thursday, according to The New York Times. 

Officers Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski each faced a felony second-degree assault charge in Martin Gugino’s fall, which occurred while Gugino was participating in a protest in response to the death of George Floyd. Gugino suffered a brain injury and fractured skull and, according to an attorney for Gugino, was left unable to walk at the time, CNN reported

The ordeal was captured on video. Video shows Gugino approaching a line of police officers in Niagara Square as they cleared protesters not long after curfew started. Gugino could be seen speaking briefly to officers and after gesturing to his phone, police shoved him. Gugino fell back and hit his head on the pavement. Police walked by as Gugino lay motionless on the ground, blood pooling by his ear, the video showed, Inside Edition Digital previously reported. 

Many who watched the video of Gugino being pushed were outraged, but some, including then-President Donald Trump, tried casting doubt on the 75-year-old's motives. Trump took to Twitter with his assertions and shared a baseless theory that Gugino was a member of Antifa, which is a movement and not an organization.

The officers were charged with assault last June, with Flynn saying they had “crossed the line” and “violated the law.” Under New York law, a person who attacks someone 65 or older and is more than 10 years younger than the victim can be charged with felony assault, Flynn said, The New York Times reported. 

Both officers pleaded not guilty. They were suspended from the police force after the June 4 incident and remained suspended pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation, the department said Thursday, CNN reported. 

Flynn said prosecutors made a thorough presentation to the grand jury, but cited security rules, and said he could not disclose details regarding witnesses and evidence, but said he did everything possible to bring a powerful case, amid criticism that he “slow-played” the case. He said that he “sandbagged nothing when presenting the case to the jurors.” He said the grand jury heard the case on a delayed basis because of coronavirus-related court closures, he said, the news outlet reported.

Flynn said video of the shove remained the primary evidence throughout the investigation, CBS News reported

"This was not the JFK assassination," Flynn said. "This was not that complex of a case. The video that was taken speaks for itself."

John Evans, president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, told The Buffalo News the organization was "ecstatic" after the grand jury’s decision. "These officers have been put through hell and I look forward to seeing them back on the job," he said. 

Gugino is a longtime activist and member of the Western New York Peace Center and the Catholic Worker Movement, which was founded by Dorothy Day and is devoted to protesting "injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms member of the Peace." He told Spectrum News Buffalo, a CNN affiliate, that he was “a little surprised” by the verdict. He said he “thought there was pressure on Flynn to get at least an indictment, an expectation that the justice system would do something to try to change the direction of the police department, change the reality of the police in the street.”

Gugino added: “I think people are, I think it will happen that people are disappointed that this misfired."