Robert E. Eloff, a central figure in the Molly’s Pub homicide from two years ago, will resign from the Buffalo Police Department and plead guilty to a misdemeanor civil rights violation on Monday in U.S. District Court, his attorney confirmed Friday.
Eloff could face up to a year in federal prison, but that is substantially less than the 10 years he could have served if convicted on the original felony civil rights charge.
Eloff, 41, was off-duty, working as private security the night bar manager Jeffrey J. Basil shoved William C. Sager Jr. down a flight of steps, causing fatal injuries.
As Sager lay unconscious outside the bar, Eloff placed him in handcuffs after Basil demanded that Sager be arrested.
A federal grand jury indicted Eloff on a charge of using his position as a police officer to violate the civil rights of the 28-year-old Sager, who died two-and-a-half months after the May 11, 2014, assault at the Main Street bar in University Heights.
Sager, an Air National Guardsman, suffered a devastating brain injury.
A letter of resignation, effective Monday, was submitted to the Buffalo Police Department, defense attorney Herbert L. Greenman said.
Eloff will enter his guilty plea before Senior Federal Judge Richard J. Arcara.
WILL Eloff will be sentenced to prison?
“It is totally up to the judge for what he believes the proper sentence would be,” Greenman said.
Basil, 38, pleaded guilty last year to first-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Police Officer Adam E. O’Shei, who was also working security the night of the tragedy, was not charged after U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr.’s office determined he did not commit any federal crimes. The Erie County District Attorney’s Office granted O’Shei immunity for his cooperation in the case against Basil.
O’Shei, who remains suspended with pay from the police department, faces disciplinary charges. The department typically waits until criminal charges in a case are settled before resolving internal charges against an officer. O’Shei, like Eloff, had been suspended initially for 30 days without pay, but under state civil service law and the police contract, the city was required to resume paying them once the initial suspension period concluded.
Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said he was prohibited from commenting because of laws covering personnel matters.
Attorney Joseph M. LaTona, who represents O’Shei, could not be reached for comment, but has previously said O’Shei did nothing wrong and should be reinstated.
At Basil’s trial, O’Shei had testified that he and Eloff had moved Sager, 28, outside for fear he might be trampled on by other patrons exiting the bar and to get him fresh air. O’Shei also testified that a short time after Eloff had handcuffed the unconscious Sager, he told Eloff the handcuffs should be removed.
Kevin Kennedy, president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, said he was unable to comment on Eloff because he had not been informed of the latest developments regarding the officer.
In the aftermath of Molly’s, Derenda forbade his officers from working directly for bar owners, a ban the commissioner had 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.
Three civil suits also have been filed in the Sager case. Sager’s family filed a wrongful-death and civil rights lawsuit against Basil, the bar’s owners and landlord, as well as the City of Buffalo, the police department and commissioner. Donald Hall, Sager’s friend who was with him that night, is also suing the city, police, the bar’s owners and landlord.
Molly’s never reopened, but the city earlier this month approved plans for a new a restaurant/bar at the site.