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Charges dropped against US police who shoved elderly man to ground, fracturing his skull

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Criminal charges have been dropped against two US police officers seen on video shoving a 75-year-old protester to the ground.

A grand jury declined to indict Buffalo Officers Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski on felony assault charges over the incident in June.

Footage showed the pair pushing over veteran activist Martin Gugino at a protest sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, and gained national attention.

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A 75-year old man was left in a serious condition after being shoved by the officers

But the decision by the grand jury in New York, announced by Erie County District Attorney John Flynn, marked an end to the matter.

John Evans, president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, told The Buffalo News: “Obviously, we are ecstatic with their decision. These officers have been put through hell and I look forward to seeing them back on the job.”

Mr Flynn, echoing earlier statements, said he did not necessarily feel the altercation rose to the level of a felony but that state law required prosecutors to bring such a charge when a victim is at least 65 and the suspected perpetrators are at least 10 years younger.

Addressing criticism that he deliberately delayed or “sandbagged” the case, he said prosecutors made a thorough presentation to the grand jury.

But he claimed secrecy rules meant he could not discuss what witnesses were called or evidence was presented

The grand jury heard the case on a delayed basis because of coronavirus-related court closures, he insisted.

The elderly man approaches the officers at the beginning of the clip
Image:
Mr Gugino approaches the officers at the beginning of the clip

Mr Flynn added that throughout the investigation, video of the shove remained the primary evidence.

“This was not the JFK assassination,” he said.

“This was not that complex of a case. The video that was taken speaks for itself.”

A news crew covering protests in downtown Buffalo showed the officers shoving Mr Gugino to the ground in front of city hall as crowd control officers in riot gear cleared demonstrators from the area for an 8pm curfew.

Mr Gugino, pushed backward, started bleeding after hitting his head on the pavement and spent about a month in the hospital with a fractured skull and brain injury.

McCabe and Torgalski were suspended without pay and arrested within days but pleaded not guilty and were released without bail pending further developments.

Blood was seen spilling from the man's head in the graphic video
Image:
Blood was seen spilling from the Mr Gugino’s head in the video

Mr Flynn told a news conference on Thursday that national attention had no influence on his decision to charge the officers right away.

“All I need is probable cause for an arrest,” Flynn said. “When I go to trial, though, I need beyond a reasonable doubt. At this point right now, it’s 50/50 in my mind as to whether or not it was intentional or reckless.

“If it’s 50/50, that’s not beyond a reasonable doubt. That analysis factors into my mind, but I can’t articulate to you what was going on in (grand jurors’) minds.”

The Buffalo News reported the Buffalo Police Department would begin an internal affairs investigation, a development that had been on hold because of the criminal case.

Following the officers’ suspensions, nearly 60 other members of the department’s crowd control unit said they would no longer serve on the unit, effectively shutting it down.

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