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Lawyers for officer accused of tripping prisoner seek non-jury trial

Attorneys for the Buffalo police officer accused of tripping and injuring a prisoner at Central Booking want a non-jury trial in late November.

City Court Judge Joseph A. Fiorella held off on the request, saying it could be discussed when Officer Joseph R. Hassett and his lawyers return Nov. 2 to discuss pending motions.

A new charge of making a punishable false written statement, a misdemeanor, also was brought against Hassett, 31, at his court appearance Thursday. Attorney Patrick E. Fitzsimmons, one of his lawyers, entered a not guilty plea on the officer's behalf.

Hassett, dressed in a gray business suit, stood quietly beside him and his other lawyer, Timothy W. Hoover.

In August, Hassett was arrested on misdemeanor assault charges for allegedly tripping a defendant at Central Booking that caused a cut on the defendant's forehead which required five stitches to close, according to a Buffalo police source.

Hoover has insisted the officer's "limited use of force" was justified against a "physically resistant, aggressive and noncompliant arrestee."

Hassett arrested Timothy Staton Jr., 27, on March 18 on misdemeanor and felony drug possession charges.

Decorated Buffalo officer charged with assault, accused of tripping suspect

A video of the incident led to an investigation and charges against Hassett. The charges were filed in August.

Hassett is a recipient of the Medal of Honor, the Police Department's highest distinction, for his actions when he was shot and wounded in 2013 when chasing a man with a gun.

After Hassett's arrest, Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said the department will not tolerate inappropriate or criminal behavior. If Hassett is found not guilty, the commissioner has said the officer could still face departmental charges.

On Thursday, Fitzsimmons said they have reviewed the video. Also, the prosecution has agreed to let them inspect Central Booking and the cellblock, where they plan to take photographs.

Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Texido told the judge he provided the defense attorneys with FBI reports of statements taken from two police officers. The prosecutor also questioned whether it would be feasible to hold the trial at the end of November since it will take time to arrange for the defense attorneys to inspect the cellblock.

Fitzsimmons said, "We have 45 days to take photographs ... and there's nothing that is going to take that much time."

The judge said he might be able to hold the trial during afternoons sessions at the end of November. Further discussion on that, Fiorella said, will be addressed on the Nov. 2 court date.

Other charges pending against Hassett are two counts of third-degree assault, second-degree offering a false instrument for filing, and official misconduct. Each is a misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to two years in jail.

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