The mayor of Buffalo has said that the elderly protester filmed being knocked to the ground by police in a now viral video was an “agitator” who has been asked to leave the area “numerous” times.
Byron Brown said that the 75-year-old man, Martin Gugino, was trying to “spark up the crowd of people”.
Two officers appeared to push Mr Gugino, who hit his head on the pavement and was seen to be bleeding from a head wound after the incident near Niagara Square in Buffalo, New York.
Mr Gugino was rushed to Erie County Medical Centre, where he is in a stable but serious condition. Both officers have been suspended without pay and an internal affairs investigation launched.
Explaining why they had not been fired, Mayor Brown told WBEN Radio: “I don’t want to jump ahead of the investigation. It is very important for officers to know they are getting due process.”
Mr Brown spoke about the violence and vandalism that had erupted after protests over the death of George Floyd and said that Mr Gugino was “a key and major instigator of people engaging in those activities”.
The entire 57-member emergency response team of the Buffalo Police Department resigned after the two officers were suspended.
The resignations were confirmed by the police union and two law enforcement that spoke to The Buffalo News.
The development that the members resigned “out of support for the suspended officers, as well as the disgust with the admin”, was first reported by Spectrum News.
Buffalo Police Benevolent Association President John Evans said the officers were “simply doing their job” and the man “slipped” during the interaction, which was aired by local news WBFO on Thursday night.
“Our position is these officers were simply following orders from Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia to clear the square,” Mr Evans told The Buffalo News.
“It doesn’t specify clear the square of men, 50 and under or 15 to 40. They were simply doing their job. I don’t know how much contact was made. He did slip in my estimation. He fell backwards.”
The mass resignation reportedly follows the union’s direction to members on Friday that they would no longer pay legal fees to defend officers from incidents stemming from the protests.
An earlier statement from Mayor Brown confirmed “developments related to work assignments”, which reportedly sees the officers resigned from the tactical unit but not from the larger police department.
“At this time, we can confirm that contingency plans are in place to maintain police services and ensure public safety within our community,” Mr Brown said.
New York State Police confirmed that additional troopers were called into the region, including members of the mobile field unit.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said told a press conference on Friday that he was “utterly disgusted“ by the officers’ decision to quit the tactical unit.
The Erie County District Attorney is investigating the incident but no charges have yet been filed. Mr Evans said the police union would pay for any defence costs of the two officers.
“We stand behind those officers 100 per cent,” he said.