Two police officers in Buffalo, NY, have been cleared by an arbitrator of wrongdoing after they shoved an elderly BLM protester to the ground in June 2020. Martin Gugino, then 75, suffered a fractured skull and brain injury after hitting his head when he fell. In a Friday decision, Jeffrey Selchick wrote that he'd found "there is no evidence to sustain any claim that Respondents (police officers) had any other viable options other than to move Gugino out of the way of their forward movement," per CBS News. Selchick notes the officers had the right to react the way they did because Gugino wasn't complying with orders to exit the scene, and because he was behaving erratically and had stepped in front of officer Robert McCabe (see a clip here, which shows Gugino bleeding on the sidewalk after his fall).
Selchick, who says he reviewed video of the push frame by frame, wrote in his decision that the officers feared Gugino might be going for their weapons; McCabe's colleague, Aaron Torgalski, had also testified he was afraid of Gugino getting too close due to COVID, per the Buffalo News. Selchick adds that Gugino was "definitely not an innocent bystander," and that it appears Gugino may have lost his balance and fell backward due to his age, because both of his hands were holding objects, or because he was surprised at the shove. What all of this means, per the arbitrator's findings, is that McCabe and Torgalski didn't violate any of the police department's guidelines on use of force when they pushed Gugino.
That's the stance that's long been taken by Buffalo Police Benevolent Association President John Evans, who tells WKBW that Selchick "clearly saw in no way was this an excessive force incident." Evans adds the officers won't face any further disciplinary action. McCabe and Torgalski have remained suspended in the nearly two years since the incident, though they were put back on the city payroll a month afterward. They were also arrested for assault shortly after the shove, but a grand jury last year declined to indict them and charges were dropped. Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia says he'll reinstate them to their jobs on Monday. An attorney for Gugino, who spent four weeks in the hospital recuperating and says he was part of a "peaceful protest," tells the Buffalo News that her client's pending lawsuit against the city of Buffalo and the officers won't be affected by this ruling. (Read more Buffalo stories.)