Felony charges were dropped Thursday against two police officers in Buffalo, New York, who violently shoved a 75-year-old protester, causing him to fall, hit his head on the sidewalk, and bleed from his ear, officials said.
Graphic video of the incident captured by local NPR station WBFO showed the moment officers shoved the peace activist during a Black Lives Matter protest in June, and quickly went viral. The footage shows the man, Martin Gugino, walking up to police officers as they begin to yell "Move!" and "Push him back!" while enforcing a city curfew.
Two of the officers seen in the video, Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe, had faced second-degree assault charges, but a grand jury that reviewed the cases voted to dismiss them, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said at a news conference Thursday.
Despite the grand jury's decision, Flynn said he had no regrets about trying to bring felony charges against the officers.
"I make no apologies for it and, if I had to do it again, I'd do the same thing without any questions about it," he said.
Gugino, who was described by friends and family as a peaceful protester, was treated for a head injury and loss of consciousness.
Police had initially told reporters Gugino "tripped and fell," without making any mention of the officers' role.
The incident sparked widespread condemnation, including from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who called the incident "wholly unjustified and utterly disgraceful."
During Thursday's news conference, Flynn said the grand jury was presented with all the relevant evidence, but noted that the proceedings are secret.
"The grand jury proceedings are secret, they're sealed, and no one is ever going to know what happened in that grand jury," he told reporters. "So, you really only have my word that I didn't sandbag anything. I put all relevant information and evidence into that grand jury and I presented it all to that grand jury and they made a decision."
Flynn said a decision didn't come down until this week because the pandemic had twice caused officials to shut down grand jury proceedings, delaying their review of the case.
Meanwhile, the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, the union representing the police officers, applauded the grand jury's decision.
"As we have stated all along, Officers McCabe and Torgalski were simply following departmental procedure and the directives of their superiors to clear Niagara Square despite working under extremely challenging circumstances," union president John Evans said in a statement. "The Buffalo PBA remains in staunch support of Officers McCabe and Torgalski."