EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this article which stated that the mayor of Buffalo called the protester, Martin Gugino, an 'agitator' has been corrected. The mayor was referring to a different protester.
Two Buffalo police officers have pleaded not guilty to assault after they were caught on camera shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground during George Floyd protests in New York.
Officers Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski were both charged with second-degree assault, a class D felony. They were both released without bail after the hearing and will return to court July 20.
The officers have been suspended without pay and an internal affairs investigation launched after the incident was caught on video and showed the man, Martin Gugino, bleeding on the sidewalk. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the video made him “sick to my stomach”.
At a news conference Saturday, District Attorney John Flynn said the officers “crossed a line.”
Byron Brown, the mayor of Buffalo, N.Y., said Friday the 75-year-old man who was shoved to the ground by two cops the previous day had been asked to leave the area “numerous times".
"He was in that area, after the curfew, one of the things that happened before that incident, is that were conflicts between protesters. There was a danger of fights breaking out between protesters and the police felt it was very important to clear that scene for the safety of protesters."
Gugino was caught on camera being shoved to the ground by officers in tactical gear shortly after a curfew went into effect near Niagara Square.
In the video, Gugino can be seen approaching a large group of officers. Someone is heard shouting, "Push him back!" An officer then pushes him in the chest, whereby the man stumbles backward and falls on the pavement. A pool of blood can be seen slowly forming around his head.
Although Brown was swift to suspend the officers, the action prompted a backlash from the police’s Emergency Response Team, with 57 officers resigning in support of their colleagues.
Brown said he will not insist that the two cops be fired because they need to get “due process”.
When asked about the 57 members who resigned from the team, he said the city had "contingency plans" and assured residents that "Buffalo will be safe this weekend."
"I want people out in our community peacefully protesting to know everyone who is peacefully protesting will be protected," he said.
Cuomo revealed Friday he had spoken to the victim, a longtime peace activist from Amherst. The governor praised the swift suspension of the officers but pressed for disciplinary action against them.
"I think the city should pursue firing," Cuomo said. "And I think the district attorney should look at the situation for possible criminal charges."
The Erie County District Attorney’s Office announced earlier in the day that it will be investigating the incident.