ALBANY, N.Y. – Two suspended Buffalo police officers were charged with second-degree assault Saturday amid outcry over video showing officers shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground at a demonstration over the death of George Floyd, prosecutors said.
Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski pleaded not guilty to the charges and were released without bail, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said in a news conference. The two were expected back in court July 20 for a felony hearing.
If convicted of the charge, the officers face a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday applauded the work of Buffalo Mayor Bryon Brown and the district attorney after saying Friday that the officers should be fired.
"I think there was criminal liability from what I saw on the video," Cuomo said at a briefing Saturday. "I think what the mayor did and the district attorney did was right, and I applaud them for acting as quickly as they did.”
He added: "What we saw was horrendous and disgusting, and I believe, illegal."
All 57 of the members of the Buffalo Police Department's Emergency Response Team resigned from the unit Friday after the two officers were suspended. The unit members have not quit the police department but have stepped down from the tactical unit.
Brown released a statement saying that the city was aware of "developments related to the work assignments of certain members of the Buffalo police force" and that contingency plans were in place to ensure public safety.
Asked about the resigning officers at a news conference Friday afternoon, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz he would be "disappointed" if they had in fact resigned.
"If they resigned, I'm exceptionally disappointed by it because it indicates to me that they did not see anything wrong with the actions last night," Poloncarz said.
Martin Gugino, the man who was pushed to the ground, was in "serious but stable condition. He is alert and oriented," attorney Kelly V. Zarcone said in an emailed statement.
Gugino is "a longtime peaceful protester, human rights advocate, and overall fan of the US Constitution," Zarcone said. He requests privacy and asks that future protests remain peaceful, Zarcone said.
Graphic video from WBFO shows the two officers pushing Gugino down as he approached them in a public square around an 8 p.m. curfew Thursday. Gugino stumbles back and falls, and the video shows him motionless and bleeding from his head.
"Our position is these officers were simply following orders from Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia to clear the square," Buffalo Police Benevolent Association President John Evans said. "It doesn't specify clear the square of men, 50 and under or 15 to 40. They were simply doing their job. I don't know how much contact was made. He did slip in my estimation. He fell backwards."
The officer's actions drew condemnation from around the state, including the governor, who played video of the incident during a news briefing Friday, watching it wide-eyed before questioning the officers’ action.
"You see that video and it disturbs your basic sense of decency and humanity," Cuomo said.
"Why? Why? Why was that necessary? Where was the threat? It was an older gentleman. Where was the threat? And then you just walk by the person when you see blood coming from his head," he said.
Sen. Chuck 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.
In its initial statement on the incident, the Buffalo Police Department said a person "was injured when he tripped & fell," WIVB-TV reported. A statement posted later on the department's Facebook page said two officers had been suspended without pay and an internal affairs investigation had begun.
Mayor Byron Brown said in a statement that he and the city's police commissioner were "deeply disturbed by the video."
"After days of peaceful protests and several meetings between myself, police leadership and members of the community, tonight's event is disheartening," Brown said.
Five protesters were arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct, according to NBC affiliate WGRZ-TV. None of the police officers seen in the video has been criminally charged.
The Buffalo Police Department and the New York State Police did not immediately respond to USA TODAY's requests for comment on Thursday.
"I can assure you, Martin is a peaceable person," said Vicki Ross, executive director of Western New York Peace Center and Latin American Solidarity Committee, an organization Gugino was involved with.
"There is no way that he was doing anything to accost or hurt. He made a judgment to stay out after the curfew because he feels that our civil liberties are so in danger, which they most certainly are."
Ross said Gugino has been undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
The incident comes after more than a week of protests against police brutality following George Floyd's death in Minneapolis. Floyd, who is black, died after now-fired police officer, who is white, pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as other officers stood by.
Since Floyd's death, which has been ruled a homicide, protesters nationwide have decried police brutality and racial inequality. Some protests have been marred by violence and looting, and police have been caught on camera multiple times using force against protesters – including peaceful ones.
Group getting larger in Niagara Square in Buffalo - probably close to 75-100 people now. pic.twitter.com/UBJjYx6z2J— Sarah Taddeo (@sjtaddeo) June 5, 2020
Contributing: Joseph Spector, New York State Team; Marcia Greenwood, Democrat and Chronicle; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Buffalo, New York police officers charged after shoving man to ground