BUFFALO, N.Y. — An arbitrator cleared two Buffalo Police officers of wrongdoing in a 2020 protest in Niagara Square, where a 75-year-old man was injured after being knocked to the ground.
Officers Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe were found not guilty on Friday by arbitrator Jeffrey M. Selchick, who said Martin Gugino "was definitely not an innocent bystander" and that there was no evidence that the officers intended to injure him on June 4, 2020.
Selchick called the officers' use of force "absolutely legitimate" in his ruling.
"Gugino, after the force was applied to him, appears to have not been able to keep his balance for reasons that might well have had as much to do with the fact that he was holding objects in each hand or his advanced age," Selchick said in his ruling.
In a video from WBFO radio that was shared around the world, Gugino is seen approaching officers from the now-disbanded Buffalo Police Department's Emergency Response Team during a protest on June 4, 2020, after curfew.
Gugino was holding a cellphone and stepping backward on the steps of Buffalo City Hall when Officers Torgalski and McCabe are seen shoving Gugino backward. He fell to the ground and suffered a skull fracture.
In February of 2021, Gugino filed a lawsuit against the City of Buffalo.
In his ruling, Selchick added that "Gugino may also have been surprised when the officers used force to push him away because he may have entertained the unfounded belief that the officers would let him interfere with the performance of their duties."
Buffalo Police Benevolent Association President John Evans told 2 On Your Side he was "ecstatic" to hear the arbitrator's decision.
"Two good cops who initially got thrown under the bus are back to the profession they love and they're doing it with a clean slate. No criminal charges, nothing administratively. They're ready to hit the streets and go back to work for the citizens of Buffalo," said Thomas Burton, attorney for the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association.
Gugino spent several days in the hospital with a head injury. He has since recovered.
The assault charges against officers Torgalski and McCabe were dismissed in February of 2021.
A City of Buffalo spokesperson told 2 On Your Side the city does not comment on pending litigation but added that the officers are expected to return to duty next week.
"I stand by the fact that charges should've been filed, and there was probable cause at that time to charge that offense, and I stand by that," Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said when announcing that the charges had been dropped.
Burton said while both officers look forward to returning to duty he lamented that the thing the legal system can't fix is the officers' reputations.