At about 11:15 p.m. May 10, Jeffrey J. Basil arrived at Molly’s Pub and announced he had been on a 24-hour bender and had popped a couple Xanax.
“Boys, we’re going to party tonight,” Basil, the bar’s manager, told two off-duty Buffalo police officers who were doubling as private security at the University Heights bar.
That scenario, as recounted by one of the off-duty officers, was the beginning of a night that ended with Basil shoving William C. Sager Jr. down a flight of stairs, leaving the Air National Guard technical sergeant unconscious and in critical condition.
“I saw Mr. Basil shove Mr. Sager down the top landing of the stairs. He flew down the stairs. It was a two-handed extension shove,” Buffalo Police Officer Adam E. O’Shei said.
O’Shei’s testimony at Basil’s felony hearing Friday was the first time an eyewitness publicly offered an extensive account of the events that resulted in Sager’s being hospitalized, two police officers being suspended and Basil, 35, facing a first-degree assault charge.
At the hearing, Robert E. Eloff, the other off-duty officer working security that night, repeatedly refused to answer the prosecution’s questions, citing his constitutional rights not to incriminate himself. Among the questions posed by Assistant District Attorney Christopher J. Belling that Eloff refused to answer:
• Are you familiar with Molly’s Bar?
• Did you see Sager thrown down the stairs?
• Did you place handcuffs on Sager?
• Did you go to the basement office with Basil and remove the surveillance video?
Also at the hearing, Joel L. Daniels, Basil’s attorney, described the incident as a barroom brawl between two drunks.
Daniels repeatedly attempted to discredit O’Shei’s testimony, claiming O’Shei told a police captain that Sager was drunk and causing trouble.
O’Shei denied making those statements, saying he did not know if Sager was intoxicated, but that he may have been. Sager, he said, swayed a bit, but the officer testified that he was certain Basil was drunk.
“He was doing double shots of Crown Royal,” O’Shei said.
Intoxication, Belling said to City Court Judge Joseph A. Fiorella, is not a defense for criminal actions.
Following the testimony, Fiorella ruled there was enough evidence to send the case to a grand jury and continued to detain Basil on $250,000 bail.
Here is O’Shei’s version of what occurred just before 2 a.m. on May 11 at Molly’s on the 3100 block of Main Street as music blared and patrons sought to buy drinks.
He said he thought Basil was the bar’s owner and only after the incident did he learn that Basil was the manager. There were also bouncers in the bar that night.
The police officer said Basil was always trying to give O’Shei and Eloff drinks, but they did not drink until after their security shifts outside the bar.
When Basil arrived for work that night, he mentioned that he was on a 24-hour bender and had taken two Xanax. O’Shei overheard a friend of Basil’s say, “That will offset the cocaine.” That caused Basil and his friend to laugh.
After their security shift, O’Shei and Eloff were at the bar drinking, invited by Basil. O’Shei said he spotted Sager pushing his way through the crowded barroom. Sager brushed up against O’Shei, touching the officer’s arm. That prompted O’Shei to ask Sager if he was “OK” because he appeared to sway into a railing.
Sager continued in the direction of Basil, who was nearby, and “for a brief second” appeared aggressive, O’Shei said in answer to a question from Daniels. Earlier O’Shei told Belling he had not observed any menacing behavior before the shove.
Seconds before Basil shoved Sager, O’Shei briefly turned away and then looked back in time to see Basil shoving Sager down the steps, flying through the air and landing on floor at the bottom of the nine-step staircase that patrons must climb to get to the upper barroom.
O’Shei said he hurried down the steps, wanting to move Sager out of the way “before he was stampeded over” by other patrons in the crowded establishment.
O’Shei said he moved the unconscious 28-year-old Sager outside the premises with Eloff and a bouncer, thinking it would help if Sager got some “fresh air.” He said they sat Sager on the sidewalk near the entrance to the bar.
At about the same time, Donald Hall, who had gone to Molly’s with Sager from a stag party, provided O’Shei with Sager’s name. The officer repeated the name to Sager, hoping that would revive him. That failed to work.
“I held up his head. He was bleeding from the nose,” O’Shei said. “I start talking to him. I said, ‘Hey buddy are you OK?’ ”
Sager never responded, so O’Shei directed Eloff to call 911 for an ambulance.
At about the same time, Basil entered the scene.
“He came over the top of me screaming he was assaulted, saying he wanted him arrested,” O’Shei said.
Eloff went to his vehicle for handcuffs and handcuffed Sager.
A short time later O’Shei said to Eloff, “Listen, take these handcuffs off.”
Eloff removed the handcuffs.
An ambulance arrived and Sager was taken to Erie County Medical Center, where he has remained in critical condition in an unconscious state.
Before Basil was ordered held for the grand jury by the judge, Daniels argued police had improperly charged his client with the more severe count of first-degree assault, a Class B felony, when it should have been second-degree assault, a D-felony, because his client did not act with depraved indifference to life.
Depraved indifference, Daniels said in citing past court rulings, represents “a prolonged course of conduct” in which “wanton cruelty” is exhibited, as opposed to shoving someone down a flight of stairs.
“...the facts in this case,” Daniels said, “don’t even come close. It was just a push down the stairs. This was sad and tragic and we all hope and pray Mr. Sager recovers, no one is hoping more than Mr. Basil and myself.”
Belling, in his comments to the judge, recalled O’Shei’s testimony that Sager never hit the steps, but rather flew through the air and hit the floor at the bottom of the staircase. O’Shei feared, Belling said, that the unconscious Sager would be stepped on by other patrons.
Fiorella, after a short recess, said he would not reduce the first-degree assault charge and continued bail at $250,000, despite Daniels’ request for a reduction to $25,000.
Outside the courtroom, Daniels repeated his contention that “this was a dispute in a tavern at about 2 a.m.”
Asked if words were exchanged between Basil and Sager, Daniels said, “There may have been.”
There were several other lawyers in the courtroom. Attorney Joseph M. LaTona represented O’Shei. Herbert L. Greenman and Aaron F. Glazer represented Eloff and Belling was assisted by prosecutor Matthew B. Powers.
Throughout the proceeding, which lasted more than an hour, Basil, in handcuffs, sat quietly in a black suit and open-collared yellow shirt.