Now that Jeffrey J. Basil has been convicted of second-degree murder, attention turns to Officers Robert E. Eloff and Adam E. O’Shei and their actions the early morning last May when William C. Sager Jr. suffered fatal injuries when he was shoved down stairs at Molly’s Pub.
Criminal charges are still possible against the two officers, who were working off duty as security at the Main Street bar and removed the unconscious Sager outside before placing handcuffs on him.
The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office are continuing to investigate whether the two officers violated Sager’s civil rights.
They also still face departmental disciplinary charges brought against them last spring.
But before the department moves forward with disciplinary hearings, it will wait and see if the officers are criminally charged.
In the meantime, the two are being paid but are suspended from the police force.
In closing arguments at Basil’s murder trial, Assistant District Attorney Christopher J. Belling described Eloff as “a despicable dog.”
Eloff refused to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination
O’Shei, was granted immunity and testified, but that only protects him from the possibility of state charges. Immunity does not preclude him from being federally charged, according to area defense attorneys.
“Federal officials cannot use what he said in court, but they can do their own independent investigation and charge him as a result of that,” defense attorney Paul J. Cambria Jr. said.
Based on the different evidence offered at the trial, defense attorney Steven M. Cohen said it does not bode well for either officer.
“In putting handcuffs on an unconscious trauma victim, Officer Eloff’s actions were designed to protect his boss by inferring culpability on the part of Mr. Sager,” Cohen said.
O’Shei’s actions in moving Sager from the base of the bar steps went against medical protocol not to move a patient who might have spinal injuries, he added.
O’Shei testified he moved Sager outside the Main Street bar, fearing Basil would attack the man and because he was concerned patrons running from the bar might trample him.
Because the officers witnessed Basil’s tampering with the bar’s DVR recorder, connected to surveillance cameras, Cohen said, that too could spell trouble for them.
“In accompanying Mr. Basil to the bar’s basement office while Mr. Basil removed the DVR system, they were accomplices in the attempted destruction of evidence,” Cohen said.
On duty officers recovered the DVR from a trash can where Basil stashed it behind a house next door.
The Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, when asked Wednesday, said it will not provide union-funded legal services for Eloff and O’Shei because the incident occurred while they were off duty.
Eloff is being represented by attorney Herbert L. Greenman and O’Shei by attorney Joseph M. LaTona.
“Adam O’Shei did nothing wrong that evening. He acted in good faith and subsequently cooperated fully with the investigation into the attack upon Mr. Sager,” LaTona said. “There is absolutely no basis in truth or in fact to support any allegation he aided and abetted in the alleged tampering with any evidence.”
Greenman said Eloff will face any legal issues as they arise. “We hope it’s something that it will be resolved in his favor, whatever is in front of him,” Greenman said, adding that he felt Belling’s criticism of the officer was out of place.
“It was disappointing. It was an unfair comment,” Greenman said.
Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda declined to comment on Eloff and O’Shei, whom he suspended without pay soon after the Molly’s incident. The officers were placed back on the department payroll after 30 days, under terms of the union contract.
If departmental hearings are conducted, an arbitrator will decide their fate. Past punishments in cases of serious misconduct have resulted in lengthy suspensions, loss of rank and termination.
Normally, the police department waits to see if criminal charges are brought before proceeding with departmental charges.
For instance, former Officer John A. Cirulli was suspended in April when he was caught on video kicking and hitting a handcuffed suspect lying face down on the pavement, but the department held off moving forward until a federal investigation was completed.
Cirulli subsequently resigned and pleaded guilty in May to federal charges brought against him by U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. Cirulli was sentenced last month to a year of probation.
Eloff and O’Shei joined the Buffalo Police Department in November 2007. The two were among 12 former Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority police who lost their jobs during 2005 budget cuts but were hired by the Buffalo Police Department two years later.
In the aftermath of Molly’s, Derenda forbade his officers from working directly for bar owners, a ban Derenda said he had been considering. The State Liquor Authority already prohibited police from working directly for bar owners – to follow the state regulation that officers have no interest in the sale or distribution of alcohol.