New York officers who shoved protester to be reinstated

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Still image from video of elderly man being pushed by policeImage source, Reuters

Two US police officers filmed pushing an elderly activist to the ground in 2020 will be reinstated this week after being cleared of wrongdoing.

An arbitrator ruled last week that officers Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe did not violate use of force guidelines.

The incident happened during a racial justice protest in Buffalo, New York, as police were clearing an area to enforce a curfew.

The activist was injured by the push.

Arbitrator Jeffrey M Selchick said the two officers had no intention of harming the protester, 75-year-old Martin Gugino, on 4 June 2020.

Mr Gugino was knocked to the ground and was seen bleeding in video of the incident that went viral. It happened at the height of protests over the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in police custody in Minneapolis.

According to Mr Selchick's 41-page ruling, released on Friday, the officers had no choice but to remove Mr Gugino because he refused to leave the area after the 20:00 local curfew and did not comply with demands to move.

There is no persuasive evidence that the officers "sought to push or drive Gugino to the ground", he wrote, adding that the use of force was "absolutely legitimate".

"While Gugino might well have believed that he was engaged in some type of civil disobedience or, perhaps, acting out a role in some type of political theater, Gugino was definitely not an innocent bystander," he wrote.

Mr Selchick based his decision on a frame-by-frame video analysis during a three-day hearing last November.

Following the June 2020 incident, both Mr Torgalski and Mr McCabe were arrested and suspended without pay. Fifty-seven of their colleagues - the entire unit - later resigned from the riot team in response to the suspensions.

Last year, a grand jury chose not to indict the two officers and charges they faced of second-degree assault were dropped.

Mr Gugino spent about a month in the hospital with a fractured skull and brain injury.

His attorney told Buffalo News that the arbitrator's ruling has no effect on the civil lawsuit Mr Gugino filed against the city last year.

Buffalo police confirmed to BBC News that the two officers would be reinstated this week. The spokesman said he would not comment on the pending litigation against the city.

Media caption,

The man approached police in Buffalo before being pushed backwards