Nearly five dozen Buffalo police officers, specially trained for civil unrest, resigned from their unit Friday after two colleagues were suspended after a video surfaced appearing to show them shoving and seriously injuring a 75-year-old protester, officials said.
The members of the Buffalo Police Department’s Emergency Response Team quit that task force after the fallout from Thursday night’s incident, which was caught on tape, according the Police Benevolent Association.
“Fifty-seven resigned in disgust because of the treatment of two of their members, who were simply executing orders,” union president John Evans told NBC affiliate WGRZ.
A spokesman for Buffalo’s mayor confirmed the mass resignation, but insisted his city’s streets would be protected. The officers involved are still with the department but are refusing to work on this specialized unit they had previously volunteered to join, a city rep said.”
The City of Buffalo is aware of developments related to the work assignments of certain members of the Buffalo police force,” Mayor Byron Brown said in a statement late Friday afternoon.
“At this time, we can confirm that contingency plans are in place to maintain police services and ensure public safety within our community. The Buffalo police continue to actively work with the New York State Police and other cooperating agencies.”
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who has been highly critical of the two officers caught on tape apparently shoving the protester, said reinforcements from state police would be enough to keep the peace.
“We’re all going to work hard to make sure there is proper police presence on the streets in the city of Buffalo and throughout Erie County,” Poloncarz said.
The senior citizen who was seriously injured Thursday night is longtime social justice activist Martin Gugino, an affordable housing advocacy organization he’s worked with said Friday.
“We are shocked to hear about and witness the serious injuries suffered by a protester at yesterday’s peaceful demonstration against police violence in downtown Buffalo,” according to a statement issued Friday by People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH).
“The protester, long-time PUSH Buffalo member Martin Gugino, has been a tireless fighter against injustice of all types for many years in our city both with PUSH and other grassroots organizations.”
Video taken Thursday night by a reporter for the local National Public Radio affiliate WBFO shows Gugino outside City Hall approaching a large group of officers in tactical gear and saying something.
The officers yell for him to move back before one or two appear to push him before he falls backward, slams his head and then is bleeding and motionless on the ground. One of the officers appears to lean over and say something to the fallen Gugino before a fellow officer pulls him away.
Two officers were suspended without pay Thursday after the police commissioner launched an investigation into the incident, Mayor Brown said.
Poloncarz said the officers must be “held responsible for their actions, not just fired.”
The county district attorney’s office said it is investigating.
Gugino was taken to Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo and was “unable to provide a statement to investigators” on Thursday night, prosecutors said.
He was in serious but stable condition in an area hospital, authorities said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters Friday that he spoke with Gugino and that the incident “disturbs our basic sense of decency and humanity.”
“Why, why? Why was that necessary?” Cuomo said. “Where was the threat? Older gentleman, where was the threat? Then you just walk by the person when you see blood coming from his head?”
By Friday afternoon, the video posted by WBFO had been viewed more than 68 million times.
The incident occurred shortly after the city’s curfew of 8 p.m. on Thursday, NBC affiliate WGRZ in Buffalo reported. Buffalo police initially said the man simply tripped and fell.
Rima Abdelkader and Caitlin Fichtel contributed.