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Former Buffalo Police officer gets 3 months in prison, 3 more at home

Buffalo Police Officer Robert E. Eloff was off duty, working private security at Molly's Pub the night William C. Sager Jr. was fatally injured.

Eloff, acting at the direction of the bar manager who shoved Sager down a flight of stairs, later handcuffed him, even though he was still unconscious.

He also cuffed Donald Hall, a friend who was simply trying to help Sager. An Air National Guardsman, Sager suffered a brain injury that night and died about two months later.

On Wednesday, a federal judge sentenced Eloff to three months in prison and three months of home confinement. Eloff could have received up to a year in prison.

"I was proud to wear the badge of a police officer and now that badge is tarnished," Eloff told U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara. "There are no excuses for what I did."

Eloff's sentence came just four months after he resigned from the police force and admitted to unlawfully arresting Hall that night in May of 2014. Eloff also admitted fabricating a story about Hall trespassing in order to justify the arrest.

Both Arcara and Joseph Guerra, the federal prosecutor handling the case, pointed to Eloff's misstatements that night to suggest the prosecution was about honesty among law enforcement.

"The criminal justice system relies heavily on the honesty of police officers and, in this case, it just didn't happen," Guerra said of Eloff and his arrest of Hall.

As part of his plea deal, the 41-year old former officer acknowledged his arrest of Hall was a reaction to Hall's demand for his name and badge number. Investigators say it was bar manager Jeffrey J. Basil who told him to cuff Sager.

Basil was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 years in prison. Eloff pleaded guilty in August to a misdemeanor charge of violating Hall's civil rights.

"It sends a message to the police," Rafael Gomez, a lawyer for Hall, said of the prison sentence ordered by Arcara.

Hall was in the courtroom Wednesday but declined to talk with reporters. He is suing the city over his false arrest and, in a letter to Arcara, wrote about the impact of losing his friend in such a tragic manner.

Gomez said Hall was simply trying to come to Sager's aid that night and still struggles with the fact that he couldn't help his friend when he needed it most.

Eloff's defense lawyer argued for a non-jail sentence Wednesday and pointed to his client's admission of guilt and resignation from the police department. He also noted Eloff's numerous commendations and awards, including one for pulling two people out of a burning building.

"Mr. Eloff lost his temper and did something he never should have done," defense attorney Herbert L. Greenman told Arcara. "It's been a huge fall from grace. He's defeated."

Eloff was joined in the courtroom by about 25 friends and family members.

Even after Wednesday's sentencing, Sager's death will continue to be the subject of a civil lawsuit brought by his family. They are suing Basil, the bar’s owners and landlord, the City of Buffalo and the Buffalo Police Department.

Francis Letro, a lawyer for the Sager family, was in court watching the proceedings Wednesday.

 

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