75-year-old protester knocked down by police in New York files suit against Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Martin Gugino, the 75-year-old protester who was seen on video being knocked down by officers during a demonstration over the summer in Buffalo, New York, filed suit Monday against the city, the mayor and several police officials, according to court records.

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The June 4 incident left Gugino with a concussion and a fractured skull, which required him to be hospitalized for nearly four weeks, his attorneys said. In the suit filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, Gugino accused authorities of “enacting an unconstitutional week long curfew, which was selectively enforced against peaceful protesters” and consistently using excessive force.

Named in the lawsuit are the City of Buffalo; Mayor Byron Brown; police officers Robert McCabe, Aaron Torgalski and John Losi; Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood and Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia.

Gugino was part of a group of about 15 protesters who gathered in Niagara Square on the night of June 8 to protest police brutality and racial inequality following the police-involved deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans last year. At 8 p.m., a curfew aimed at protecting peaceful protesters went into effect, and the Buffalo Emergency Response Team was deployed, according to court records.

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Gugino’s attorneys said he grew alarmed “when he saw (the ERT) were dressed in military riot gear and wielding heavy batons.” When they began to march toward City Hall, Gugino attempted to speak to the officers.

“Push him, push him,” officers could be heard yelling before two of them, identified as McCabe and Torgalski, shoved Gugino to the ground. The incident was caught on camera by a WBFO reporter.

Gugino is requesting a judge grant him a jury trial, attorneys fees and unspecified damages for the incident.

The lawsuit was filed days after a grand jury declined to indict Torgalski and McCabe, who had been charged with assault, according to Spectrum News Buffalo. Gugino told the news station he was surprised by the decision.

“Black Lives Matter, a completely legitimate protest, did it endanger anything? No. What is the need to stop it?” he told Spectrum News Buffalo. “There’s no reason for police to break that up, short of them thinking (there’s) some kind of lawless action about to take place, or imminent, clear and present danger to somebody over something.”

Gugino’s attorney, Richard Weisbeck, said in a statement that Gugino committed no crime and had a right to be protesting at Niagara Square on June 4.

“Gugino became the victim of police brutality at the very moment he was peaceably and constitutionally protesting against police brutality,” he said. “If the roles were reversed, and Gugino pushed a BPD officer who then fractured his skull, he would have been immediately indicted, and for good reason.”