Prosecutor: 2 Buffalo police charged with assault after shoving 75-year-old protester

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In this image from video provided by WBFO, a Buffalo police officer appears to shove a man who walked up to police Thursday, June 4, 2020, in Buffalo, N.Y. Video from WBFO shows the man appearing to hit his head on the pavement, with blood leaking out as officers walk past to clear Niagara Square. Buffalo police initially said in a statement that a person was injured when he tripped & fell, WIVB-TV reported, but Capt. Jeff Rinaldo later told the TV station that an internal affairs investigation was opened. Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood suspended two officers late Thursday, the mayors statement said. (Mike Desmond/WBFO via AP)

(AP) – Two Buffalo police officers were charged with assault Saturday, prosecutors said, after a video showed them shoving a 75-year-old protester in recent demonstrations over the death of George Floyd.

Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski, who surrendered Saturday morning, pleaded not guilty to second-degree assault. They were released without bail.

McCabe, 32, and Torgalski, 39, “crossed a line” when they shoved the man down hard enough for him to fall backward and hit his head on the sidewalk, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said at a news conference, calling the victim "a harmless 75-year-old man.”

The officers had been suspended without pay Friday after a TV crew captured the confrontation the night before. If convicted of the felony assault charge, they face up to seven years in prison.

McCabe's lawyer, Tom Burton, said after the arraignment that prosecutors didn't have any grounds to bring felony charges. He said his client is a decorated military veteran with a clean record as a police officer.

“Nobody started out their day intending to hurt this fellow,” Burton said. He added that if the victim had followed commands to back off, “none of this would have happened.”

A phone message was left with Torgalski's lawyer.

The footage shows the man, identified as longtime activist Martin Gugino, approaching a line of helmeted officers holding batons as they cleared demonstrators from Niagara Square around the time of an 8 p.m. curfew.