The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In violent protest incidents, a theme emerges: Videos contradict police accounts

Police officers in Buffalo appeared to push a man onto the ground while clearing Niagara Square following a citywide curfew. (Video: WBFO / Spectrum News Buffalo via Storyful)

On May 26, the morning after George Floyd’s last gasps underneath a policeman’s knee, the Minneapolis Police Department wrote he had “physically resisted” officers, who noted Floyd “appeared to be suffering medical distress.”

That news release went online hours before video revealed two things the public may have never learned otherwise: the source of his distress was nearly nine minutes of Derek Chauvin’s leg pressed into Floyd’s neck, and there is little evidence, if any, that Floyd resisted officers.

The pattern — video of violent police encounters that contrast sharply with accounts by the departments or their unions — has repeated with grim symmetry in the days since Floyd’s death. Numerous incidents have captured the rage of the public who point to inaccurate or outright misleading descriptions of what has occurred before their eyes.

Taken together, the incidents show how instant verification of police accounts have altered the landscape of accountability.

“We certainly, as a profession, have been diminished by events that have been witnessed on video over the course of the last couple of weeks,” Jim Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police, a labor union, told The Washington Post.

Officers in Buffalo shove a man who ‘tripped and fell’

A 75-year-old protester was shoved by police officers in Buffalo on Thursday, causing the man to stumble backward and slam his head on the sidewalk. Blood streamed from his ear in the disturbing video shot by local NPR affiliate WBFO.

The initial news release from the Buffalo Police Department said the man, later identified as Martin Gugino, “tripped and fell” during “a skirmish involving protesters” — ostensibly placing the consequences on the man himself.

“He’s bleeding out of his ear!” shouted one person in WBFO’s video, as the officers shuffle past the man laying motionless on the ground, turning instead to arrest another protester.

The disparity between that account and the viral video fueled outrage over the incident. The department walked back its description after it reviewed the video and suspended the involved officers without pay.

Claims of assault on police fizzle in Philadelphia

Evan Gorski, 21, a protester in Philadelphia, was arrested on an allegation he pushed an officer off a bike on Monday, authorities told his attorney.

But video circulated on social media painted a much different picture of how Gorski, a Temple University student, tangled with police. In the moment captured by others, Gorski reached between another demonstrator and an officer to separate them.

A moment later, Philadelphia police officer Joseph Bologna Jr. struck Gorski with a baton, chased him down and straddled him as another officer pressed his face to the asphalt. Other officers swung their batons at others gathered around.

Gorski’s attorney, R. Emmett Madden, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that prosecutors dropped charges and released him Wednesday after reviewing video from the scene.

“The police were lying,” Madden said. “We had a protest against police brutality, and then police brutalize my client and try to frame him for a crime he didn’t commit.”

Bologna now faces charges of felony aggravated assault.

Police union says cameraman struck with shield ‘may have fallen’

The charge of authorities against protesters in Lafayette Square in Washington on Monday has become one of the most scrutinized incidents among the protests, complete with officials parsing the definition of tear gas to downplay the violent response.

But in one widely condemned moment, U.S. Park Police were shown striking an Australian news cameraman with a shield, jabbing at his camera and swinging a baton at the anchor.

The moment, broadcast live on 7 News in Australia, triggered an international incident, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling on his diplomats in Washington to investigate.

The agency’s union responded with a statement defending the actions of the officers, suggesting the camera crew “may have fallen.” It occurred because of the loud chaos in the park and the “lack of readily identifiable journalist markings,” Kenneth Spencer, chairman of the U.S. Park Police Fraternal Order of Police Labor Committee, said in a statement Thursday.

The union appeared to have deleted their statement from their homepage after it was obtained by The Washington Post. An archived version of their page shows their initial statement. A spokesman for the union did not make Spencer available for comment.

The two officers involved were placed on administrative leave as an investigation continues, the Park Police said Wednesday.

What is less clear in the union’s summary of events is where the crew may have fallen, and if a flurry of shields and batons may have led to it — if they even fell at all.