All 57 members of a police tactical unit in Buffalo, New York, have resigned from that team to protest the suspension of two colleagues who were filmed shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground, local media reported on Friday.
Two members of the Buffalo Police Department's Emergency Response Team were suspended on Thursday and are being investigated after a local radio station released video of the incident involving the protester.
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT Video shows two police officers in Buffalo, New York, shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground. The sound of a crack is heard and blood trickles from the man’s head https://t.co/JOGKvPOjoD pic.twitter.com/TBqs4gelmi— Reuters (@Reuters) June 5, 2020
Local media quoted Buffalo Police Benevolent Association President John Evans as saying the officers were simply doing their job, and that their colleagues on the response team had resigned from the special unit to protest their treatment. The 57 remain police officers, local media said. Evans could not be reached for comment.
Earlier on Friday a spokesperson for the local county's district attorney, Kait Munro, said the two officers are under investigation for potential criminal liability in connection with Thursday evening's incident outside City Hall.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told CNN on Friday that contingency plans were in place to address any policing issues due to the resignations, and he said state troopers were embedded with Buffalo police to shore up their operations.
Brown said he believed the Police Benevolent Association put pressure on officers in the tactical unit by threatening to withdraw support to them if they did not resign from that team.
"I don't think unions should behave that way," Brown said on CNN. "That was not an act to protect the worker. That was an act to intimidate police officers and to not protect the residents of our community."
The video footage raised further questions about police behavior, after the death of African American man George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody set off nationwide protests.
Recorded by a reporter from radio station WBFO, the footage shows the white-haired man approaching a line of officers in riot gear. One officer pushes him with a baton and a second one with his hand. He falls, a crack is heard and blood trickles from the man's head.
The video shows the majority of the officers march past the injured man, Martin Gugino, though the officer who pushed him with a baton starts to lean over him before he is motioned away by another officer. Someone is heard calling for a medic.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday he had spoken with Gugino and was thankful he survived. Cuomo said the police chief should fire the officers involved.
"You see that video and it disturbs your basic sense of decency and humanity," Cuomo told a daily briefing. "Why, why, why was that necessary? Where was the threat?"
Gugino, who is white, could not be reached. According to a community organizer who has known him for a decade, he is a longtime activist who has advocated for affordable housing, climate justice and police accountability and regularly protested outside the Erie County Holding Center, a Buffalo jail that has come under scrutiny for a string of inmate deaths.
"I've been doing this work for around 10 years, and I can't remember a protest Martin wasn't at," said John Washington, an organizer at People's Action in Buffalo. "Whatever the issues of justice were, he stepped up and was always there."
Washington said Gugino had gone to the demonstration to protest brutality by police but "clearly" posed no danger to the officers. He said he had only been able to confirm Gugino was in stable condition.