on May 17, 2014 - 7:42 PM
, updated May 18, 2014 at 10:58 AM
Jeffrey J. Basil, accused of causing a serious brain injury to William C. Sager Jr. by pushing him down a flight of stairs at Molly’s Pub early last Sunday, pleaded not guilty this morning in Buffalo City Court to a charge of first-degree assault.
Judge Joseph A. Fiorella set bail at $250,000 and Basil, 35, was sent back to the Erie County Holding Center. His attorney, Joel Daniels, set he would seek a more “reasonable” bail to free his client.
Prosecutor Christopher Belling urged Fiorella not to grant bail.
“This case at any second could turn into a homicide case,” he told the judge.
Dressed in a black suit with a white open-collared shirt, Basil stood quietly, handcuffed from behind, during the brief court appearance. He is the manager of Molly’s on the 3100 block of Main Street in University Heights.
In arrest paperwork filed by Homicide Det. Christopher Sterlace, Basil is accused of “depraved indifference to human life” and “he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, to wit, brain injury to William Sager in that the defendant did on May 11, 2014, at approximately 1:55 a.m. while at Molly’s Pub pushed the complainant down a flight of stairs.”
Daniels, in arguing for a lower bail, pointed out that Basil surrendered at 5 p.m. Saturday to homicide detectives at Buffalo Police Headquarters. The defense attorney noted that he has been in contact with his client throughout the past week and with members of the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. “This incident occurred last week in the early morning hours well past midnight at a very active bar. It’s not unusual in these types of incidents for things to take twists and turns,” Daniels said, adding, ”We certainly hope Mr. Sager’s health conditions improve.” He said Basil, a Williamsville resident, is a graduate of Maryvale High School and attended Buffalo State College.
Pointing out that Basil’s family members were in the courtroom, Daniels asked that his client be released on a $25,000 property bond.
“Mr. Basil has worked his entire adult life and is no risk of failing to appear at future court proceedings,” he said.
Belling had pointed out to the judge that in 2003, Basil was convicted of a felony drug charge and a few years earlier had a misdemeanor conviction for violating a court order, plus “several additional arrests.”
Fiorella scheduled a felony hearing for 10 a.m. Friday.
Basil is considered a fixture in Buffalo’s bar business despite his felony conviction, four sources with extensive knowledge of the case told The Buffalo News.
Police officials and people familiar with the events of May 11 say that Basil – with off-duty police protecting his back – inflicted the damage that has left Sager unaware of his surroundings. Sager remained in critical condition today in Erie County Medical Center.
Basil, who was raised in Cheektowaga and lives in Williamsville, is not connected to the Basil family that runs the popular local car dealerships.
He was considered the manager at Molly’s before Buffalo police shut it down Friday, Molly’s catered to the late-night college crowd.
Just before 2 a.m. on Mother’s Day, Sager called 911 to complain that he was being harassed by two off-duty police officers and the bar’s management. However, in the confusion, police sources said, another person may have made that call on his behalf. Chief Dennis Richards said Saturday that the victim’s phone, which has been accounted for, showed no record of an outgoing 911 call prior to the assault. Sager was thrown down a set of stairs, handcuffed while unconscious, dragged several feet down the street and left in a heap, according to nine police sources and people familiar with the attack.
Sager, an Air National Guard sergeant who had just bought a new house in Newfane and was to be married in July, suffered a devastating brain injury. Both police and people who have visited him in the hospital have learned that his chances for recovery are poor.
Public records indicate that Molly’s is owned by NHJB Inc. The initials could stand for Norman Habib – who the State Liquor Authority says holds the liquor license – and manager Jeffrey Basil. Basil lists the bar among his Facebook friends. Habib, however, has not returned telephone calls from The News seeking clarification about the ownership.
State law bars felons from holding a liquor license without special permission. Basil was convicted in 2006 of a felony count of criminal possession of a controlled substance. (He filed for bankruptcy the following year.) With the felony, he was unlikely to obtain his own liquor license for any bar – but he did play a lead role in running one.
State law bars off-duty police from working inside bars, but Buffalo police are routinely hired by busy nightspots to station themselves outside the bars and handle the crowds as a way to moonlight.
Two Buffalo police officers worked outside Molly’s on the evening of Saturday, May 10, the final weekend before this year’s University at Buffalo graduation ceremony. At some point, as Saturday evening slipped into Sunday morning, the officers were inside the bar.
Shortly before 2 a.m. the confrontation broke out. Sager, who had been out for a stag party for a friend from the Niagara Falls Air Station, called 911 to complain about the management and two off-duty cops. He soon landed on the hard floor at the bottom of a set of stairs. Doctors surmised that he was already out cold as he fell, because he did nothing with his arms or hands to break his fall, a family member said.
A set of police handcuffs then were locked around his wrists. Police sources say those cuffs belong to Officer Robert E. Eloff, who with Officer Adam E. O’Shei has been placed on administrative leave – with pay – during the investigation. While still out cold and bleeding from the ears and mouth, Sager was dragged outside and left on the pavement a distance away from Molly’s.
Basil, according to police sources, tried to dump the bar’s internal videotape in a trash bin at the nearby 7-Eleven convenience store. Police officers responding to the additional calls placed to 911 recovered it.
A friend of Sager’s tried to come to his aid outside but was charged with trespassing by one of the responding officers. Eloff backed up the charge as the complainant, according to police records.