Last month, an attorney for the Molly’s Pub manager accused of seriously injuring a bar patron by pushing him down the stairs argued in court that the evidence didn’t support a felony assault charge against his client.
His client now faces not only a felony assault charge, but also two more felonies, pleasing the victim’s grandmother and one of his friends who was with him that night at the bar.
An Erie County grand jury Thursday indicted Jeffrey J. Basil, 36, of Amherst, on charges of second-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault and tampering with evidence.
Basil was initially charged with only first-degree assault after the May 11 attack on William C. Sager Jr. at the bar on Main Street in the University Heights neighborhood.
But his attorney argued at a June 13 bail hearing that the evidence did not support a felony assault charge, only a misdemeanor assault or reckless endangerment charge.
The grand jury did not see it that way, returning the three-count indictment.
Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said the allegation is that Basil attempted to cause the death of the victim by “launching him down the stairs.”
The assault and attempted-murder charges carry maximum prison sentences of 25 years, while the maximum for tampering is four years behind bars.
Sager, 28, an Air National Guardsman, suffered a brain injury and remains in serious condition in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit at Erie County Medical Center.
After the attack, Basil removed a bar surveillance video and disposed of it in a trash bin behind Molly’s, according to police sources. The video was recovered.
Those close to Sager say they are grateful to Sedita for taking the case so seriously and seeking the additional charges.
“The whole situation doesn’t make me happy at all. But I was very pleased there were more charges,” grandmother Shirley Sager said.
She said she could not make additional comments because the case is pending.
Donald E. Hall, a close friend of William Sager’s who was with him at Molly’s, said the additional charges are a positive development.
“I’ve been waiting to hear what the grand jury would do, and I’m obviously definitely glad they went with more charges,” Hall said.
Hall had watched as his friend nearly died after he was pushed down the stairs and then was handcuffed and carried outside despite a devastating head injury.
When Hall attempted to intervene, Buffalo Police Officer Robert E. Eloff, who was working off-duty security outside the bar with Officer Robert E. O’Shei, arrested him on a charge of criminal trespass, which was later dropped in City Court.
Though Sager’s condition has been upgraded to serious from critical in recent days at ECMC, his medical situation remains the same, according to his grandmother.
“They tell us everything is the same. He’s still in a coma,” Shirley Sager said, adding that support from the community remains strong. “We’re getting cards from all over. The community is great. People are just awesome.”
The community will rally on behalf of Sager early next month. A benefit to help cover his medical costs and other expenses is scheduled from 1 to 6 p.m. Aug. 3 at Post 9249, Veterans of Foreign Wars, on Grand Island. Additional details on the event are online at benefitbillsager.com.
Following his arrest on the initial assault charge, Basil had been held on $250,000 bail set by a City Court judge who ordered him held for the grand jury following a May 23 felony hearing.
But last month, State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski lowered the bail to $35,000, after his attorney, Joel L. Daniels, questioned the felony assault charge and asked that bail be reduced to a reasonable amount. Basil posted the bail and was released.
Basil will be arraigned on the indictment next Friday before State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang.
During the felony hearing, O’Shei testified that he saw Basil give Sager a two-handed shove down the stairs without any provocation from Sager.
At that hearing, Eloff refused to answer Assistant District Attorney Christopher J. Belling’s questions about the Molly’s assault case, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The questions Eloff refused to answer included whether he was familiar with Molly’s, whether he saw Sager thrown down the stairs, whether he handcuffed an unconscious Sager after the attack and whether he went to the bar’s basement office with Basil and removed the surveillance video.
Both officers have been suspended and face a hearing on departmental charges of acting in a manner unbecoming a police officer for their conduct that night.
As for the department’s Internal Affairs Division investigation into Eloff and O’Shei, police officials say, the criminal case against Basil will have to unfold before further departmental action can be taken against the officers.
Eloff was seen on the bar’s video surveillance system walking with Basil toward the bar’s office, where the recording hardware for the cameras was located. After they entered the office, the cameras were disabled, authorities said.
Whether Eloff had a role in disabling and disposing of the digital hardware and images is one of the elements of the Internal Affairs investigation, authorities say.
Eloff was ordered by Michalski last month to give authorities a DNA sample as prosecutors sought to determine whether he helped in the attempt to throw away the bar surveillance video.
Investigators also are concerned about O’Shei’s testimony at Basil’s felony hearing that he heard Basil discussing drug use and about the officer’s apparent failure to do anything about it, according to police officials.
When Basil arrived for work the night of the attack, he mentioned that he was on a 24-hour bender and had taken two Xanax pills. O’Shei testified that he overheard a friend of Basil’s say, “That will offset the cocaine.”
No criminal charges have been placed against either officer.