All 57 of the members of the Buffalo Police Department’s Emergency Response Team resigned Friday from the unit which responds to riots and other crowd control situations, the president of the union that represents Buffalo police officers told The Buffalo News.
Two law enforcement sources confirmed the resignations.
Two members of the Emergency Response Team were suspended without pay late Thursday after they were involved in pushing a 75-year-old protester to the ground as they were clearing the area in front of Buffalo City Hall at the emergency curfew. The Erie County District Attorney’s Office is investigating the incident. No charges have been filed.
The Emergency Response Team members have not quit the police department, but have stepped down from the tactical unit, according to the sources.
Spectrum News first reported the development on Twitter, along with WIVB-TV.
The union representing Buffalo police officers told its rank-and-file members Friday that the union would no longer pay for legal fees to defend police officers related to the protests which began Saturday in downtown Buffalo and have continued on and off, according to one source. The union is upset with the treatment of the two officers who were suspended Thursday.
“Our position is these officers were simply following orders from Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia to clear the square,” said Buffalo Police Benevolent Association President John Evans. “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.”
A video posted by WBFO late Thursday night showed the officers pushing the man before he fell backward and hit his head on the sidewalk. He was taken to Erie County Medical Center, where he was in stable but serious condition early Friday morning.
It was not clear how the Buffalo Police Department will deal with the manpower issue. State Police, Erie County Sheriff’s Office, as well as other local law enforcement agencies have been helping with the response to protests and unrest.
“I don’t know what the city is going to do,” Evans said. “They have not called me.”
Mayor Byron Brown said in a statement: “The City of Buffalo is aware of developments related to the work assignments of certain members of the Buffalo police force. At this time, we can confirm that contingency plans are in place to maintain police services and ensure public safety within our community. The Buffalo police continue to actively work with the New York State Police and other cooperating agencies.”
Evans said: “We stand behind those officers 100%.”
The PBA will pay for any defense costs for the two officers, Evans said, but not for any members of the Emergency Response Team or SWAT in regards to the protesting.
Evans said the two officers, whose names have circulated widely on social media, have been harassed.
The actions of the officers drew swift condemnation from people across the nation, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“It’s just fundamentally offensive and frightening,” Cuomo said Friday morning.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Friday afternoon that “if they’ve resigned, I’m exceptionally disappointed by it because it indicates to me that they did not see anything wrong with the actions that occurred that night.”
Attorney General Letitia James released a statement about Thursday’s incident: “The video captured on June 4 shows what appears to be a horrific display of abuse and lack of concern for New Yorkers by the Buffalo Police Department. My office supports the investigation by the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, and we stand by ready to assist should they need it.”
Some of the protests this week have turned violent. More protests are anticipated this weekend.
Saturday evening a woman who drove a car into the middle of protesting in Delaware Avenue was pulled from her car and beaten up, police said. Also a bail bonds van was set on fire and a man is accused of throwing a flaming object into City Hall later that night. Monday night, after a nonviolent march ended in front of the Northeast District police station on Bailey Avenue, a woman drove a car through a line of police in riot gear, running over a state trooper who suffered a shattered pelvis and broken leg. Another trooper and a Buffalo police officer were also struck but less seriously injured.