on July 8, 2014 - 1:22 PM
, updated July 9, 2014 at 12:15 AM
Christopher J. Kozak is seen in a video leaving Bottoms Up bar on West Chippewa Street on the night of March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, when four or five Buffalo police officers surrounded him. One grabbed him from behind, forced him to the ground with the help of other cops and left his face a bruised mess.
Kozak didn’t do anything to deserve the beating, attorney Roland M. Cercone said. Kozak was not charged or arrested.
In fact, after the beating, the same officer who pulled Kozak to the ground gave him a ride to the nearby hotel where Kozak was staying that night, Cercone said.
The officer was Robert E. Eloff, according to the attorney.
This is the fourth allegation of unjustified force involving Eloff that has come to light since Air National Guardsman William C. Sager Jr., 28, was pushed down a flight of stairs at Molly’s Pub in University Heights on May 11, allegedly by the bar manager. That occurred while Eloff, 39, and another officer moonlighted nearby as security guards.
The March 17 incident on West Chippewa is the third in which Eloff is seen on videotape. In one of the other recorded incidents, which occurred the previous day, he is seen grabbing a cellphone from a St. Patrick’s Day paradegoer who was trying to record police efforts to break up a disturbance on West Chippewa.
In the Molly’s Pub incident, Eloff is shown on video walking toward the tavern’s surveillance camera, leading police to investigate whether Eloff helped the bar owner allegedly dismantle and attempt to throw out the cameras.
Cercone called a news conference Tuesday, which Kozak did not attend, to describe what happened outside Bottoms Up on West Chippewa back in March.
In June, Kozak filed a notice of claim, signaling his intent to sue. Eloff will be named as a defendant when the suit is filed, Cercone said.
He said Kozak did not file a claim immediately after the incident because his family knows Eloff. The officer worked security at 67 West on Chippewa, a bar owned by Kozak’s brother Jesse that is next to Bottoms Up. But given the injuries that Christopher Kozak suffered, Cercone said, he decided to file a lawsuit.
In a video of the incident taken from 67 West’s security cameras, officers ganging up on Kozak are in police garb, wearing a jacket with the word “POLICE” on the back. But a department source said Eloff would have been off-duty at the time, and it’s possible all were off-duty given that they were wearing jackets that are not part of the Buffalo Police Department uniform.
Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda declined to comment on the incident pending an investigation by the Internal Affairs Division.
Eloff’s attorney, Herbert L. Greenman, did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
Kozak, 43, works as a road paver and lives in Kenmore. In the busy season around St. Patrick’s Day, he had been working at 67 West to help out his brother, and staying at a nearby hotel overnight.
At about 7:45 p.m. March 17, a Monday night, Christopher Kozak and his girlfriend walked into the bar next door, Bottoms Up, Cercone said.
They didn’t stay long. Kozak had maybe one or two drinks, and he was not drunk, Cercone said. There was some kind of a disturbance – which Cercone said did not involve Kozak or the girlfriend – and Kozak and his girlfriend chose to leave, the attorney said.
Kozak reached the sidewalk before his girlfriend, according to Cercone. He turned back to see where she was, and faced a handful of Buffalo police officers rushing at him from inside the bar.
The lawyer said Kozak’s face was left badly bruised, as well as his arms and a thigh. Cercone said the officers did not explain to Kozak why they beat him up but did huddle together after the incident.
Cercone said Kozak recognized Eloff from working security at his brother’s bar, and also working security at Bottoms Up. Kozak does not consider himself friends with Eloff, just an acquaintance from his brother’s bar. Cercone said he doesn’t know if, or when, Eloff recognized Kozak, but Eloff did give Kozak a ride back to hotel.
Kozak did not seek medical treatment that day but did the following day, Cercone said. And two days later, Cercone said, Kozak went back to the doctor because he was in such pain that he thought his ribs were broken, but they were not.
Eloff and the other off-duty officer in the Molly’s Pub case have been on unpaid suspension since that incident in May, which had also prompted the Buffalo police officials to reconsider department policy on off-duty security. Buffalo police are no longer allowed to work as security detail for bar owners.
Since the Molly’s pub incidents, others have come forward to publicly disclose alleged mistreatment by Eloff are:
• Devin T. Rooney, who told The Buffalo News that Eloff slammed his head into a wall at Faherty’s on Elmwood Avenue after Rooney tried to take a picture of a young black man being held in handcuffs nearby. Rooney suspected that the young man was being treated unfairly. Rooney said he was calling 911 when Eloff used unjustified force in January 2013.
• Leonard F. Jacuzzo, an adjunct college professor, who said he was gang-tackled outside Toro Tapas Bar when he tried to take a picture of the crowd that had spilled outside the bar early one morning in June 2013. Eloff was among the officers taking him down.
• A paradegoer said Eloff, while on duty, knocked a phone from her hand while she was recording video of police breaking up a disturbance on West Chippewa after this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 16. Internal Affairs investigators began an inquiry into that incident.
Cercone said that he generally thinks highly of Buffalo police but that “some guys are not cut out to be cops.”
News Staff Reporter Matthew Spina contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org