A prominent businessman has provided $50,000 for the defense of two Buffalo police officers accused of pushing 75-year-old protester Martin Gugino to the ground and fracturing his skull.
The $50,000 came from Douglas Jemal, a developer of several major projects in Buffalo, according to Thomas H. Burton, attorney for the two officers and the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association.
“In my book, Mr. Jemal is a great American,” Burton said. “He felt that these two officers had been treated unfairly and called my office, completely out of the blue, to offer his assistance. He offered to pay their entire defense, but we capped it at $50,000.
Jemal, who is based in Washington, DC, but also has a home in Buffalo, confirmed Burton’s account in a phone interview with The Buffalo News on Friday.
“I reached out because I was concerned that these two officers weren’t having a fair day in court,” Jemal said. “When you look at the video of what happened, I think people dramatized the video and tried to make these officers look like thugs, which they are not.”
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Burton represents officers Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe, who were cleared by an arbitrator last week for using unnecessary force against Gugino during a Black Lives Matter protest outside City Hall on June 4, 2020.
Cell phone video of a WBFO reporter of the encounter – which resulted in Gugino falling to the sidewalk, cracking his skull and bleeding profusely from his ear – went viral and was seen by millions after the incident.
Arbitrator Jeffrey M. Selchick said he found that officers Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe did not violate police department regulations and did not intend to injure Martin Gugino, 75, during of the demonstration in front of the town hall on June 4, 2020.
Criminal charges against the two officers were filed and later dropped after an Erie County grand jury considered the incident. Both officers denied attempting to injure Gugino.
On April 8, a state arbitrator ruled that the two officers did not intend to harm Gugino and did not violate any Buffalo Police regulations. A lawsuit in federal court filed by Gugino, accusing the officers of violating his civil rights, is still pending.
The officers, who were suspended after the incident, were reinstated to active duty following the referee’s decision.
Speaking to The News after the decision, Burton praised Jemal for what he called his “unsolicited, willing and overwhelmingly generous support” of the two officers.
“I’ve been defending police officers for almost four decades now, and this is the first time a private citizen has approached me and done something like this,” Burton said.
Jemal said he was delighted with the referee’s decision.
“I’m glad our justice system worked in this case,” Jemal said. “I didn’t do this because I knew the officers. I still haven’t met them to this day. They thanked me, through Mr. Burton.”
Jemal added that his financial support for the police was “not a publicity stunt” and was not meant to curry favor with the police.
“I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do. I don’t care what people think about it,” the 79-year-old developer said.
Gugino and two attorneys who represented him in the federal lawsuit could not be reached for comment on Friday.