Updated: Saturday, 5:11 p.m.
A special squad on the Buffalo Police Department — the Emergency Response Team — has resigned from their posts, according to the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association.
The announcement comes one day after two members were suspended without pay when a video surfaced, showing the officers pushing over a 75-year-old protestor, causing injury. The BPD Internal Affairs unit has opened an investigation into the incident.
“Fifty-seven resigned in disgust because of the treatment of two of their members, who were simply executing orders,” said John Evans, PBA president.
All officers who resigned from ERT will remain on the job in their regular duties, Evans said.
Their action stems from a decision by city officials Thursday to suspend two officers after video showed them shoving a 75-year-old protester who struck his head on the pavement and immediately started bleeding onto the pavement. The victim is hospitalized in serious but stable condition. The conduct of the officers has been widely condemned, by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, among others.
— WBFO (@WBFO) June 5, 2020
The special response unit was formed in 2016 and is deployed to manage mass demonstrations and riots. They are the first line of defense and best trained officers in the department for these situations, according to Evans and other police sources. Their training includes pushing through crowds in order to maintain control.
“Don’t put them out there if you don’t want them to do the job,” Evans wrote in a text to Investigative Post. “This is an example of officers doing exactly what they’re supposed to and then getting charged. It’s so wrong.”
The unit’s training is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA’s, Field Force Operations course. It’s a three-day training which covers skills including baton-holding positions, mass-arrest procedures, and riot-control formations, according to the website.
The mass resignation comes a few hours after the PBA — which represents virtually every member of the police department — sent an email to all members.
In it, union leadership wrote: “I know it has been said that the admin won’t back you. After witnessing first hand how these two officers were treated, I can tell you, they tried to fuck over these guys like I have never seen in my 54 years.”
The union email expressed concerns about being able to afford legal defense for ERT and SWAT members who have charges brought against them as the result of their actions during future protests.
Last November, the state’s Court of Appeals ruled that the City of Buffalo was not obligated to pay for the civil defense of Buffalo Police Officer Cory Krug, who was caught on video in 2014 striking a Lackawanna man repeatedly with a baton on Chippewa Street. Because Krug had violated the department’s use of force policies, the court ruled, he was not working within the scope of his duty. Therefore, the city could opt out of paying his legal fees — though the city remained on the hook if the plaintiff won a judgment against Krug.
That judgment could put the onus on the PBA and individual officers to pay for their legal defense, PBA attorney Thomas Burton told Investigative Post in March.
Value our work? Donate to our nonprofit newsroom.
Buffalo’s SWAT team members also considered resigning from their special assignment posts, but ultimately decided not to, police sources told Investigative Post.
In lieu of using its own ERT unit, Buffalo will work with outside police agencies, said Captain Jeff Rinaldo, spokesman for the police department.
“We have many outside agency partners like we have all week,” Rinaldo said.
The State Police also have troopers trained in emergency response.
“The New York State Police is aware that Buffalo Police Emergency Response Team has resigned. The New York State Police will be adding additional troopers in the region,” said Jim O’Callaghan, a spokesman.
The resignations come in the face of what are expected to be stepped-up protests tonight and over the weekend. Demonstrators have been staging anti-racism rallies in Buffalo since Saturday, much of it directed at what protesters consider discriminatory policing practices.
The Emergency Response Team was established after protests elsewhere in the wake of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Its first operation was policing outside KeyBank Center when then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump staged a rally that attracted some 11,400 people to the downtown arena in April 2016.
Read more of our reporting on police misconduct
- Discuss the real issue: Racism
- Video triggers investigation of cop conduct
- Police shooting costs Buffalo $4.5 million
- Derenda leaves behind a mess at Police HQ
- Safety practices ignored in Lehner’s drowning
- Police who cross the line
- Scant oversight of Buffalo police
- Tempting a Ferguson in Buffalo