Police Officers Robert E. Eloff and Adam E. O’Shei have arrested their share of criminals – often on felony charges – during their seven years with the Buffalo Police Department.
Yet they ended up working off-duty at a Buffalo bar for a convicted felon with a lengthy criminal record.
How could that be?
To start, there are no rules in the Police Department’s professional manual prohibiting officers from associating with felons or other unsavory characters.
In the late 1980s, when the department revised its rules and regulations, it inserted a section under conduct of officers stating that “employees shall not consort or knowingly associate with persons generally known to have a reputation of criminal conduct or association or frequent places where they are known to congregate, except in the performance of their assigned duties.”
But that was stricken from the department manual after the police officers union fought it in arbitration, contending that the city inserted the clause without negotiating the change.
The section was removed after the state’s Public Employment Relations Board, or PERB, ruled in favor of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association in June 1990.
Eloff and O’Shei now find themselves in hot water, and their off-duty boss, Jeffrey J. Basil, is in even more trouble following the assault on a patron May 11 at Molly’s Pub, 3199 Main St., where the two officers worked security. The officers have been suspended without pay as the department investigates any role they played during and after the assault on William C. Sager Jr., 28, an Air National Guardsman. Basil, who has an extensive police and court record, has been charged with first-degree assault.
Police officials say their hands are tied in preventing such associations of off-duty officers because of the PERB decision.
“The department is obligated to abide by the collective-bargaining agreement and decisions made by the Public Employment Relations Board or judicial rulings,” Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said.
PBA President Kevin M. Kennedy declined to answer questions about the PERB ruling. “I don’t want to talk. I have nothing to say to you,” Kennedy said.
But other area police departments, including Cheektowaga, Amherst and the Town of Tonawanda, as well as the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, have strict rules and regulations prohibiting officers from associating with convicted felons or other unsavory people.
The State Police has one of the most comprehensive policies barring troopers from having anything to do with people who have had run-ins with the criminal-justice system.
“A member shall avoid any association that would tend to arouse the reasonable suspicion that such an association would interfere with the proper performance of the member’s duties,” the regulation states. It goes on to list what associations are off-limits:
• People who are under investigation, arrested or indicted for a felony or serious criminal behavior.
• People with a reputation for present “felonious or serious criminal behavior.”
• People convicted in the preceding five years on a felony.
The troopers’ regulations even address family members who are convicted felons, limiting those contacts to a spouse, domestic partner, sibling, child or parent.
Erie County sheriff’s deputies must adhere to a regulation stating that “you cannot associate yourself with any known convicted felon,” according to Undersheriff Mark N. Wipperman.
In Cheektowaga, officers are prohibited from “associating or fraternizing with known criminals or persons of ill repute except in the immediate discharge of official duties or with the authorization of the chief of police.”
The Town of Tonawanda Police Department has a similar regulation.
Amherst has a catchall regulation that states: “You should conduct your private and professional life with dignity and in such a manner to avoid bringing the department into disrepute.”
Most police departments, including Buffalo, also require officers seeking to work off-duty, part-time jobs to submit a form stating the type of work and requesting permission.
Fellow officers and police administrators question whether Eloff and O’Shei demonstrated sound judgment by working for Basil, who has a lengthy criminal record for drinking and driving, assault and drugs.
Basil, 35, of Amherst, has been known to the Buffalo Police Department since 1999, when he was first arrested in the city; he was arrested five other times in the city and surrounding communities. Basil’s felony dates from 2003, and he was arrested as recently as last June in Niagara Falls on charges of misdemeanor third-degree assault and second-degree harassment in a physical attack.
In 2012, he was arrested on a felony driving-related charge involving alcohol but pleaded guilty in January 2013 to a reduced charge of misdemeanor driving while ability impaired.
It is unknown whether Eloff or O’Shei was aware of Basil’s criminal history, but a veteran Buffalo police officer who has worked off-duty for years providing private security said officers who seek outside employment have an obligation to make sure they are not indirectly sullying the department.
“It behooves officers to check on who they are working for,” said the officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because department regulations prohibit officers from talking to the media.
According to police officials, officers are well aware of the bad guys from their patrol duties, and there is always “word of mouth” in the police community for finding out whether someone is law-abiding.
Some officers say that, technically, Eloff and O’Shei may have been working for Norman J. Habib, who holds the state liquor license for Molly’s, and not for Basil.
Still others say Eloff and O’Shei are not legally allowed to run a computerized criminal background check on someone who is willing to hire them part time.
“If you were looking to work on a job, I know you can’t run a background check on your boss or an owner,” said retired Buffalo Deputy Police Commissioner George M. Loncar, an attorney who later worked for Erie County negotiating labor contracts.
“And people don’t broadcast if they have criminal records,” he said.
If an officer’s association with a convicted felon results in poor behavior, the officer can be charged by the department with conduct unbecoming an officer, said Loncar, who retired from the Police Department in 2005.
That is exactly what happened with Eloff and O’Shei on Tuesday.
Police officials also noted that they failed to arrest Basil after he pushed Sager down a flight of stairs in the University Heights bar in the early morning of May 11.
Instead, Eloff and O’Shei dragged the unconscious Sager outside the bar and onto the sidewalk, where Eloff placed handcuffs on him, according to police sources and others close to the case.
When on-duty officers arrived, Eloff had Sager’s friend arrested for criminal trespass – a charge the Erie County District Attorney’s Office later dismissed in City Court – for refusing to leave his unconscious friend’s side.
Surveillance video at Molly’s captured Eloff and Basil walking toward the bar’s office, where the hard drive for recording images from the establishment’s 16 cameras was situated and then disabled.
That unit, which appeared to have been damaged, was thrown into a garbage can by Basil, police sources said, adding that on-duty officers later recovered it.
The possibility of charging the off-duty officers and Basil with evidence-tampering, not only for discarding the recording unit but also for moving Sager, has been raised by authorities in the case, but no such charges have been filed.