A 75-year-old peaceful protester who suffered a broken skull and brain damage when officers threw him to the ground last summer has sued the Police Department and the city of Buffalo, New York.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, accuses the city of violating the constitutional rights of Buffalo resident Martin Gugino to free speech, peaceful assembly, a due process and protection against unreasonable seizures.
Gugino spent nearly a month in a local hospital after officers in Buffalo were captured in a shocking viral video pushing him minutes after the curfew last June, at the end of a protest against the assassination by George Floyd’s Minneapolis Police Department.
After officers push him in the video, Gugino can be seen falling and then lying on his back, a pool of blood spilling under his head as other officers pass by. An officer can be seen leaning beside him, apparently in an attempt to provide assistance, but a colleague pulls the officer away. Watch the full video here:
Then-President Donald Trump falsely referred to Gugino as an “anti-provacateur” in a tweet as the injured man was being treated in hospital.
After police initially claimed that Gugino “tripped and fell,” Constables Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe were suspended and pleaded not guilty to second degree assault charges. An Erie County grand jury earlier this month refused to indict them. The police union was “extremely satisfied” with the decision and noted in a statement that the two men “were simply following departmental procedures.”
Gugino’s trial argued that the city had declared an “unconstitutional and draconian” 20-hour week curfew that was “selectively enforced against peaceful protesters” like Gugino. The defendants also used “illegal and unnecessary force” against Gugino in an attempt to “suppress the exercise of his constitutional rights,” the lawsuit argued.
“You don’t have free speech unless you have the freedom to protest,” Gugino co-counsel Melissa Wischerath said in a statement. “By assaulting Martin Gugino while he was demonstrating peacefully in Niagara Square, the city and BPD [Buffalo Police Department] attacked Martin Gugino’s most basic rights as an American.
Wischerath said the lawsuit is seeking compensation for “Martin’s serious injuries as a result of being the victim of unlawful police violence.”
Gugino’s other lawyer, Richard P. Weisbeck, noted that if “the tables had been turned and Gugino had pushed a BPD officer who then fractured his skull he would have been immediately charged, and for good reason ”.
Gugino told a local news station late last year that the police who pushed him were not “particularly bad officers,” but “the whole system was wrong. They were all taught to do the wrong thing. This is the problem that must be resolved. “
The lawsuit names the City of Buffalo, the mayor, the police commissioner, the deputy commissioner, Torgalski, McCabe and a third officer, John Losi, who the lawsuit says “pushed” the defendants towards Gugino before he or “assaulted”.
City officials are not commenting on the trial.
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