This detail came to light days after a bar patron was assaulted inside Molly’s Pub on May 11:
Molly’s manager Jeffrey J. Basil and one of the Buffalo police officers moonlighting with his security force, Robert E. Eloff, hustled to the downstairs office where the bar kept its surveillance equipment.
The surveillance system quickly went dark. Someone then dumped the recorder, storing images of William C. Sager Jr. being launched down a flight of stairs, into a garbage container outside. It was an apparent attempt to destroy evidence as on-duty police officials began to investigate.
The Buffalo News has now learned that a third person – off-duty Officer Adam E. O’Shei – accompanied Basil and Eloff to the Molly’s Pub office housing the surveillance equipment.
This fact about O’Shei, now a key witness for prosecutors, has been confirmed by two law-enforcement sources with access to troves of information about the Molly’s Pub debacle.
Basil was curious about what the surveillance system had captured, one source said. Eloff went with him. So did O’Shei, who that night also was also moonlighting with the Molly’s Pub security team.
There is no evidence, however, that O’Shei played a role in disposing of the equipment, the source told The News. Only Basil, 36, the bar manager who held a financial stake in the now-closed Molly’s Pub, has been charged with tampering with evidence, which was later recovered.
As for Eloff, prosecutors suspected he was part of the effort to dispose of the device and with a court order obtained his DNA in an effort to link him to the crime. But he has not been charged.
O’Shei became a valuable witness for prosecutors. He testified in Basil’s felony hearing, saying that he saw Basil deliver the two-handed shove that sent Sager down the stairs onto his head. O’Shei also testified in the matter before an Erie County grand jury, said Joseph LaTona, a lawyer for O’Shei.
“He certainly did nothing wrong down there,” LaTona said when The News asked why O’Shei went to the Molly’s Pub office containing the surveillance equipment. “There is no claim that he had anything to do with any alleged or suspected alteration, destruction or concealment of any evidence.”
Asked again why O’Shei went to the office, LaTona deflected the question and insisted that O’Shei acted in good faith that night, even when the two officers and a bouncer moved the unconscious Sager outside the bar, though Sager had just suffered a serious head injury.
O’Shei said during the felony hearing that the officers were trying to spare Sager further injury should other patrons step on him, and they wanted to give the injured man fresh air.
Eloff during the felony hearing asserted his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer questions.
Buffalo lawyer Joel Daniels is defending Basil on charges that so far include tampering with evidence, assault and attempted murder. Even more serious charges could be lodged as county prosecutors ask a grand jury to consider new counts in the wake of Sager’s death July 31.
“Well, it could be helpful. We’ll have to wait and see," Daniels said when asked for his reaction to the new information about O’Shei, which he said he had not heard before. He refused to comment further.
Daniels would likely use the information to chip away at O’Shei’s credibility, said Dominic Saraceno, a local criminal defense lawyer who is not connected to the Molly’s Pub case and was asked by The News what a defense attorney might do with the new information.
In a trial – should the case go to trial – Daniels might ask O’Shei why he did not reveal at Basil’s felony hearing that he had been in the vicinity of the recording equipment, Saraceno said.
“The defense lawyer is going to compare all of those earlier testimonies to try and find inconsistencies,” Saraceno said. “And when you can find inconsistencies, you can begin to discredit people.”
At the felony hearing in May, Daniels tried to find contradictions in O’Shei’s testimony by asking him if he told a police captain that Sager had been drunk and causing trouble. O’Shei denied making those statements.
Sager was a 28-year-old Air National Guardsman who planned to be married this summer and wanted to pursue a career with the State Police. Those hopes ended when he ventured into the bar in University Heights at the tail end of a night out that started with a friend’s stag party.
Some time after a brief exchange between Sager and Basil, Sager was shoved down the stairs. It was unprovoked, according to Sager’s friend, Donald Hall, who was in the bar that night, and O’Shei’s felony-hearing testimony.
While the assault riveted public attention, so have details about the actions of the two Buffalo police officers who were picking up a few extra dollars working for Molly’s Pub. Were the officers covering for Basil by lifting the unconscious and bleeding victim outside the bar, and even handcuffing him for a time? Was Eloff trying to avoid a link to Molly’s when he called for an ambulance to tend to an unconscious man found at “Main and Winspear" rather than the nearby Molly’s Pub, at 3199 Main?
In the aftermath, Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda forbade his officers from working directly for bar owners, a ban Derenda had been considering. The State Liquor Authority already prohibited police from working directly for bar owners – to follow the state regulation that officers have no interest in the sale or distribution of alcohol.
But the Buffalo department had allowed its officers to work for bar owners if they focused only on concerns outside the bar, primarily crowd control. O’Shei, 42, and Eloff, 40, were inside the bar when Sager was pushed down the stairs.
Both men joined the Buffalo Police Department in November 2007. The two were among 12 former Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority police who lost their jobs during 2005 budget cuts but were hired by the Buffalo Police Department two years later. Both are suspended pending the outcome of departmental charges.
Eloff’s off-duty employment has received more scrutiny than O’Shei’s since the Molly’s Pub episode unfolded. At least six citizens have publicly complained that Eloff either roughed them up or misused his authority during encounters with them.
The FBI is investigating whether he should be charged with civil rights violations, according to a source familiar with the probe.