Buffalo Protester Pushed Down by Police Suffered Brain Injury: Lawyer
Martin Gugino is out of the ICU but remains hospitalized, his attorney says
Martin Gugino, the 75-year-old man shoved to the ground by Buffalo police last week at a protest, has a brain injury and a fractured skull from the fall. He is starting physical therapy, but is not able to walk yet, according to his attorney.
"As most of you know, Martin is a soft spoken but thoughtful and principled man. As heartbreaking as it is, his brain is injured and he is well aware of that now," attorney Kelly Zarcone said in a statement Thursday.
"He feels encouraged and uplifted by the outpouring of support which he has received from so many people all over the globe. It helps," she continued. "He is looking forward to healing and determining what his 'new normal' might look like."
The two officers involved were quickly suspended and charged with assault after a video of what happened went viral. They have pleaded not guilty.
Gugino approached a line of officers as they were clearing demonstrators shortly after a curfew started. After Gugino spoke briefly to the officers and gestured with his phone to one of them, the police shoved him, he fell back and hit his head on the ground so hard that blood began pooling.
Police then walked by the unmoving Gugino, who ended up in intensive care in a local hospital.
Zarcone told PEOPLE on Wednesday he was moving to a rehabilitation floor. "His condition continues to improve," she said, "and we hope he will be released within the next two weeks."
Victoria Ross, a friend and executive director of the Western New York Peace Center, where Gugino volunteers, previously told PEOPLE that Gugino "has been in a lot of pain, and it's been very difficult."
Though the footage of the incident was roundly denounced, on Tuesday morning President Donald Trump tweeted a baseless theory that Gugino was in fact some kind of "ANTIFA provocateur," referring to a loose association of militant left-wing demonstrators, and his fall might be a "set up." It appears Trump was reacting to a report he had just seen on a fringe, right-wing TV network.
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Gugino's friends and attorney have previously told PEOPLE that depiction is absurd.
"The gap between who Martin is and what the president alleged or hinted at is so wide, it's really indescribable," says Matt Daloisio, a New York City public defender who has known Gugino for more than a decade.
Instead, he's described as a gentle man devoted to nonviolence, a Catholic who can be found advocating for causes as varied as affordable housing with PUSH Buffalo, nuclear disarmament with The Kings Bay Plowshares or racial justice with Black Lives Matter, among other causes.
"Martin spends all of his time trying to figure out how to use his gifts and his resources to benefit others," says Daloisio. The pair met through their work with Witness Against Torture, a group devoted to shutting down the prison in Guantanamo.
"Martin's one of the sweetest people I've ever met," Daloisio tells PEOPLE. "He is a kind and gentle man."
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
• ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.
• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.