The last images on the surveillance video from inside Molly’s Pub in the early morning of May 11 show the bar manager and an off-duty Buffalo police officer approaching the office where the surveillance system’s hardware is located.
Shortly after, there are no more images.
“It goes dark,” a police source said of the digital record that the bar’s multiple surveillance cameras captured.
Jeffrey J. Basil, the manager, and Buffalo Police Officer Robert E. Eloff, one of two officers providing off-duty security for Molly’s at the time, are shown walking into the office soon after William C. Sager Jr. was shoved down a flight of stairs inside the bar in University Heights and gravely injured.
Authorities say they believe that Basil took the recording device from the basement office and dumped it into a garbage tote nearby. But the image of Eloff at his side suggests that the police officer may have known of Basil’s plan to get rid of the recordings.
On-duty officers responding to two 911 calls at Molly’s later found the recording device in a tote to the rear of Molly’s, and investigators are continuing to review its contents.
The Buffalo News also learned that police found a footprint on the device, indicating an apparent attempt to smash it. The FBI recovered the images, however, and efforts are under way to link the footprint to a person.
A person who knowingly destroys evidence of a crime could face charges of tampering with evidence or obstructing governmental administration, according to two law enforcement officials familiar with the case.
The Buffalo Police Department has placed Eloff and Officer Adam E. O’Shei on paid administrative leave as Internal Affairs Division investigators examine the role the two played – or the protection they did not provide – in the assault. Further, FBI agents are determining whether the officers used their authority to violate the victim’s civil rights.
Meanwhile, high-ranking Buffalo police officials are considering prohibiting their officers from providing off-duty private security at taverns and nightspots because of the conflicts of interest that arise.
Among the policy questions: Are the sworn officers serving their off-duty employers, or does the fact they almost always wear police identification imply that they still protect the general public?
The victim, an Air National Guardsman who was expecting to be married in July, remains in critical condition in Erie County Medical Center.
His father said Monday that there has been no change in his condition: Sager, 28, lies in bed, unaware of his surroundings because of a devastating brain injury. He receives painkillers, and soothing music wafts through his room.
Sager had scored well on a test to become a state trooper, but it is unlikely now that he will have such a career. The assault on him could become a homicide case at any moment, a prosecutor said when Basil, 35, of Amherst, was arraigned Sunday.
Clashes in bars are not uncommon. The attack in Molly’s just before 2 a.m. May 11 was unusual in that the manager was the alleged assailant, the two off-duty officers who worked for him were nearby, and at least one of the officers, Eloff, was more than a passive observer.
According to a friend of Sager’s, Basil pushed Sager down a flight of stairs unprovoked. Authorities say Sager’s head took the brunt of the fall. With Sager unconscious, he was pulled outside, where Eloff handcuffed him, police sources said. Sager was then dragged away from Molly’s, and at some point, the cuffs were removed, police sources said.
Bar owners generally do not want public records created of disturbances at their establishments. But Sager was not dragged far. He was about 8 to 10 feet from the main entrance, and still unconscious, when an ambulance crew arrived.
Initial police summaries of the call said it was “unclear” whether the victim “was involved in a physical altercation at Molly’s Pub.”
Later, witnesses removed any doubt by telling police that the assault on Sager occurred inside the bar. Sources tell The News that some patrons of Molly’s recorded the incident on their cellphones.
The News reported last weekend that before being thrown, Sager called 911 to report that he was being harassed by two off-duty officers and the Molly’s management. But the friend of Sager’s later said that he, not Sager, called 911 after Sager was hurt.
As the friend tried to intervene, he was charged with trespassing by on-duty police who responded to the emergency. Eloff was the complainant backing up the charge.
Eloff and O’Shei were not in full uniform but were clothed in a manner indicating they are police officers, which is typical for police who moonlight at bars. A section of New York’s Alcoholic Beverage Control law makes it unlawful for police personnel to be “either directly or indirectly interested in the manufacture or sale of alcoholic beverages.” Despite the prohibition, off-duty police in Buffalo and elsewhere work outside bars, ostensibly on crowd control. The bar owners pay them, typically around $25 an hour.
One bar owner, who asked to remain unidentified to avoid being drawn into the Molly’s episode, said he hopes Buffalo’s police commissioner continues to let his officers work outside bars. The bar owner said the incident in Molly’s occurred because of the bad actions of one particular manager and the actions, or inaction, of a couple of officers. Police, he said, are better trained and more knowledgeable about the law and therefore provide better security than private security companies.
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