A State Supreme Court justice has allowed a civil rights lawsuit by the family of William C. Sager Jr., who died in 2014 after being assaulted by the manager of Molly’s Pub, to move forward.
Named in the suit are the City of Buffalo, its police commissioner, officers who worked security at the bar on Main Street in University Heights and the bar’s owners, manager and landlord.
Justice James H. Dillon denied the defendants’ motions to dismiss the lawsuit, noting that the Buffalo Police Department, also named as a defendant, “was not an entity which may be sued,” adding that the city was the proper party.
The defendants were given 20 days to file answers to the complaint, filed in May 2015.
Sager, an Air National Guardsman, was a customer at Molly’s on May 11, 2014, and suffered severe head injuries when an intoxicated Basil shoved him down a stairway. Sager, 28, died 2½ months later.
Bar manager Jeffrey J. Basil, 38, of Amherst, is now serving 18 years in prison after pleading guilty a year ago to manslaughter in Sager’s death.
Two off-duty Buffalo police officers, Robert E. Eloff and Adam E. O’Shei, were working private security at the bar that night, and at Basil’s instruction, Eloff handcuffed the fatally injured man and carried him outside after the assault rather than administering aid or arresting Basil. Eloff also admitted helping Basil remove possibly incriminating security video.
In June, Eloff pleaded guilty in federal court to a misdemeanor civil rights violation and resigned from the Police Department. O’Shei, who testified for the prosecution in Basil’s trial, remains suspended with pay and faces possible disciplinary action. Molly’s closed after Sager’s death.
The lawsuit contends that the city and the police commissioner were responsible for violations of Sager’s civil rights and for his death because, it says, they adopted and sanctioned two policies that were “a dangerous conflict of interest,” pitting the professional duties of police officers against their personal interest in protecting private employers.
It describes the first policy as “the City’s Police Bouncer Policy,” under which off-duty officers were allowed to work in bars in what the suit says was a direct violation of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Law. After the assault at Molly’s that Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda reversed the policy and forbade officers from working directly for bar owners.
The suit refers to the second policy as “the City’s Felon Policy,” which permitted Eloff and O’Shei to get second jobs working for a convicted felon – Jeffrey Basil. The suit contends that this made the city and the police commissioner conspirators with the pub owners, managers and their police security, so that Basil could engage in “offensive, violent, and/or criminal conduct … without fear of any penalties or repercussions from Buffalo police.”
Overall, before Sager died, the defendants violated his rights under the First, Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, the suit says. It seeks damages to cover Sager’s medical and funeral expenses and attorney fees, along with punitive damages.