Two Buffalo police officers were charged on Saturday with felony assault after a video showed officers shoving a 75-year-old man who was protesting outside City Hall on Thursday night, officials said.
“We had two of our police officers who crossed the line,” the Erie County district attorney, John J. Flynn, told reporters after the arraignment. “My job is to prosecute those who have violated the law, plain and simple. And I believe, and I’m alleging, that these two officers violated the law.”
Prosecutors identified the officers as Aaron Torgalski, 39, and Robert McCabe, 32. They pleaded not guilty and were released on personal recognizance.
The charges were filed after a widely viewed video taken by WBFO, a local radio station, showed two police officers appearing to shove Martin Gugino, who has been identified as an activist and a member of the Western New York Peace Center who was attending a protest stemming from the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Mr. Gugino, who was shoved after he approached officers, staggered backward and landed hard on the sidewalk. Blood was seen immediately pooling behind his head.
The two officers were suspended without pay, a move that incited outrage from the rank and file. The president of the officers’ union, the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, told The Buffalo News that the city’s actions led all 57 officers on the Emergency Response Team to quit the unit.
Officers Torgalski and McCabe were assigned to the team, a special squad formed to respond to riots.
John Evans, president of the union, told WIVB-TV that the charges were “totally unwarranted” and thanked the police, firefighters and others who showed up to the courthouse to support the two men.
“It was tremendous, tremendous to see,” Mr. Evans said. “I just think it’s a strong indication of the outrage basically over this travesty.”
Prosecutors said the officers appeared in court on Saturday morning after their lawyers were told about the charges against them.
The video of the incident spread rapidly across social media, fueling outrage over the growing body of videos showing officers responding to protests against police violence with more police violence.
The fury only intensified when the Police Department first claimed that Mr. Gugino “tripped and fell,” a description at direct odds with the video.
Mr. Flynn, the district attorney, said that if Mr. Gugino was violating curfew and refused to move, officers should have moved to arrest him.
“You don’t take a baton and shove him,” he said, noting that the other officer shoved Mr. Gugino with his right hand, knocking him down. “That’s what you don’t do. You properly arrest him if he was committing a crime.”
Mr. Flynn said Mr. Gugino was still hospitalized and in serious condition.
Under New York law, a person who attacks someone 65 or older and is more than 10 years younger than the victim can be charged with felony assault, Mr. Flynn said. If convicted, the officers face up to seven years in prison.
During the arraignment, supporters gathered outside the courthouse, some of them holding the American flag. Others wore T-shirts that said “BPD Strong.”
A handful of counterprotesters showed up with megaphones, chanting, “Support good cops, not bad cops.” One counterprotester chanted, “Don’t push old men.” The crowd of police supporters stared back at them but remained peaceful.
When Officers Torgalski and McCabe left the courthouse, the crowd erupted in applause and cheers. Some appeared to hold up a sheet to shield the men from news cameras.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Saturday commended city and county officials for suspending and charging the officers.
“I think there was criminal liability, from what I saw on the video,” he said. “I applaud them for acting as quickly as they did. There is no tolerance for delaying justice in society anymore.”
Mr. Cuomo added: “What we saw was horrendous and disgusting, and I believe, illegal.”
In Buffalo, Stefan I. Mychajliw, comptroller of Erie County, posted a video of himself on Twitter outside the courthouse, where he said he stood in solidarity with the Buffalo police. He called politicians who weren’t supporting officers “cowardly.”
“Right now, we need strong leaders who believe in the rule of law,” said Mr. Mychajliw, who is running for a congressional seat in a district that includes the Buffalo suburbs. “Right now, radical progressives are attacking police and they want chaos and they want anarchy. Enough is enough.”