A 75-year-old peaceful protester who suffered a fractured skull and brain injury when police officers shoved 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 Buffalo resident Martin Gugino’s constitutional rights of freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, due process and protection from unreasonable seizure.
Gugino spent nearly a month in a local hospital after Buffalo officers were captured in a shocking viral video pushing him just minutes after curfew last June, at the end of a demonstration against the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
After police officers shoved him in the video, Gugino can be seen falling and then lying on his back, a pool of blood spreading beneath his head as other officers walk by. One officer can be seen stooping next to him, apparently in an attempt to provide aid, but a colleague pulls the officer away. Watch the full footage here:
After police initially claimed that Gugino “tripped and fell,” officers Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe were suspended and pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree felony assault. An Erie County grand jury refused earlier this month to indict them. The police union was “extremely pleased” about the decision and noted in a statement that the two men were “simply following departmental procedures.”
Gugino’s lawsuit argued that the city enacted an “unconstitutional and draconian” week-long 8 p.m. curfew that was “selectively enforced against peaceful protesters” like Gugino. The defendants also used “unlawful and unnecessary force” against Gugino in an effort to “suppress the exercise of his constitutional rights,” the suit argued.
“You do not have freedom of speech unless you have freedom of protest,” Gugino’s co-counsel Melissa Wischerath said in a statement. “By assaulting Martin Gugino as he peacefully protested in Niagara Square, the City and BPD [Buffalo Police Department] attacked Martin Gugino’s most fundamental rights as an American.”
Wischerath said the suit seeks compensation for the “severe injuries Martin suffered as a result of being a victim of unlawful police violence.”
Gugino’s other attorney, Richard P. Weisbeck, noted that 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.”
Gugino told a local news station late last year that the police who pushed him were not “especially bad officers,” but that the “whole system is wrong. They’re all taught to do the wrong thing. That’s the problem that needs to be fixed.”
The suit names the city of Buffalo, the mayor, police commissioner, the deputy commissioner, Torgalski, McCabe and a third officer, John Losi, whom the suit claims “shoved” the defendants towards Gugino before he was “assaulted.”
City officials are not commenting on the lawsuit.