A companion of William C. Sager Jr. called 911 early Sunday to report Sager was being harassed inside Molly’s Pub by the management and two off-duty police officers.
UPDATE: Two 911 calls were placed at about the same time – 1:58 a.m. – from Molly’s, two law enforcement sources said May 18. A companion of Sager’s called to report that the bar’s staff and two off-duty officers were acting in a threatening manner and alerted authorities that his friend was in trouble. The News previously reported that it was Sager who called 911.
Soon after that call, Sager was thrown down a set of stairs and placed in handcuffs while out cold.
Then, still in handcuffs and bleeding from the ears and mouth, he was dragged out on the sidewalk, a short distance from the bar. When a friend tried to intervene, he was placed under arrest.
Later, when on-duty police responded, they found an internal surveillance tape from Molly’s in the trash nearby.
That is the scene from early Sunday morning that The News pieced together after interviewing nine sources familiar with the investigations into the brutal beating of Sager. These new details emerged Friday as a wave of Buffalo police officers, troubled by the events at 3199 Main St. five days ago, shared what they knew. A Sager family member also confirmed much of what others told The News.
Sager, who was to be married in July, remains in the intensive care unit at Erie County Medical Center, unaware of his surroundings. Police and people who have visited him say there is little chance he will recover from his severe brain injury.
These reports suggest that at least one of the off-duty officers inside Molly’s Pub early Sunday was more than a passive observer to the beating.
The off-duty officer retrieved his handcuffs so they could be clicked around Sager’s wrists. He then complained to responding officers about Sager’s friend, who was arrested.
Said one cop: “Why would an off-duty officer put handcuffs on an unconscious man?”
Other police sources said that the handcuffs were removed prior to an emergency crew arriving.
Just days ago, top Buffalo police officials revealed they were examining what the two off-duty officers were doing inside the bar in University Heights as Sager was beaten to within an inch of his life.
On Friday, the two officers were placed on leave with pay as the investigation plays out.
The News has learned that they are Robert E. Eloff, who works in the Central District, and Adam E. O’Shei, who works in Ferry-Fillmore. Both started in November 2007.
City police Friday exercised their power to close a bar and shut down Molly’s, at least temporarily, Chief of Detectives Dennis Richards said. The State Liquor Authority Friday also has begun an investigation.
And homicide detectives said they are close to arresting Sager’s attacker.
Several police sources said a manager of the bar had a major role in the incident.
Police sources tell The News that the manager dropped the establishment’s internal surveillance tape into a nearby trash bin early Sunday. However, an on-duty police officer found the tape, and it is available to the detectives. Some patrons also recorded the beating on their cellphones, and that data was collected as well by responding officers and will be part of the investigation.
Sager, 28, serves with the Air National Guard at the Niagara Falls Air Station and was out with co-workers Saturday for a stag party. As the night wore on, a few from the group ventured into Molly’s Pub, near the University at Buffalo’s Main Street campus.
It is now known that Sager’s companion called 911 in Sager’s defense to complain about the management and the two off-duty officers after the confrontation erupted about 2 a.m.
If Sager sparked the incident, he had a lot to lose. He recently scored well on the test to become a state trooper and was longing for his application process to ramp up, one friend said. An arrest for a bar fight would not look good on his background check.
Despite restrictions on Buffalo police officers working security inside bars, it’s common for police to work security outside Buffalo’s busiest nightspots. Eloff and O’Shei were working outside Molly’s Pub and then went inside when Saturday night’s security duties ended, sources told The News.
The pub has two floors for patrons. During the assault, Sager was sent hurtling down the steps between the two floors. A doctor at ECMC surmised that he was already unconscious because there is no sign he used his hands and arms to break his fall, according to a member of the Sager family. With Sager on the floor, Eloff’s handcuffs were locked around his wrists, several police sources said.
By the time Sager was dragged outside, at least one other person had called 911 about the disturbance at Molly’s. The responding officers and medics were confused as to why the unconscious man found on the streetside had police handcuffs around his wrists.
When a friend of Sager’s tried to tend to him, he was charged with trespassing for refusing to leave.
Eloff is listed as the complainant supporting that charge, according to city police records.
The FBI also is examining whether police officers violated civil rights. County prosecutors are expected to handle any criminal charges stemming from the assault.
The presence of police officers inside the bar during a violent episode creates another embarrassment for the Buffalo Police Department. Just weeks ago, news broke that an officer punched and kicked a handcuffed defendant as he lay on a city street.
That abuse might have slipped quietly away had a citizen’s cellphone video not gone viral.
Amid public outrage, Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda placed six officers on administrative leave and then suspended Officer John A. Cirulli without pay. Cirulli is the patrolman seen punching and kicking the handcuffed John T. Willet, 22.
When Cirulli realized the event had been recorded, he demanded that the citizen delete the images, authorities said. But the citizen managed to protect the video.
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