The personal injury lawyer for the family of William C. Sager Jr., who died after he was pushed down the stairs at Molly’s Pub last May, has filed a wrongful-death, personal-injury and civil rights lawsuit.
The personal injury suit names the bar’s manager, owners and landlord as well as the City of Buffalo, the Police Department and commissioner, the police union and two off-duty officers who were working security at the bar the night of the attack.
The suit, filed Thursday in State Supreme Court, includes 28 causes of action and seeks an unspecified amount of compensatory damages and punitive damages.
It was filed by William C. Sager Sr., father of the 28-year-old Air National Guardsman and administrator of his son’s estate, on behalf of himself, his wife, Darlene Sager, and his son’s fiancée.
“The Sager family and Bill’s fiancée, Erika Webster, feel very strongly that there needs to be justice for the violations of Bill’s civil rights, and we intend to strenuously argue that point in court,” said personal injury lawyer Francis M. Letro, who is representing the family, along with attorney Ronald J. Wright.
The suit names Jeffrey J. Basil, 36, the former manager who is accused of pushing Sager down the bar stairs last May 11, causing a skull fracture that left Sager in a coma and led his death July 31 at Erie County Medical Center.
A jury convicted Basil of second-degree murder in January, but State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang set aside the verdict this week because of misconduct by one of the jurors during jury selection.
Basil will face a new trial on the original murder and manslaughter charges if District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III does not appeal the judge’s ruling.
The lawsuit also names Officers Robert E. Eloff and Adam E. O’Shei, who were working off-duty security at the bar. After Sager went down the stairs, the officers carried the unconscious victim outside, and Eloff handcuffed Sager after Basil accused Sager of having attacked him.
Both Eloff and O’Shei have been suspended pending an investigation by the Buffalo Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division.
In addition, Eloff was charged last week by the FBI with civil rights violations in connection with his actions at the bar that night and during an altercation with another bar patron earlier last year.
The Sager family’s suit says the city, the Police Department, Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda and the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association authorized Eloff, O’Shei and other officers to work as bouncers or security personnel at bars.
“The city’s police bouncer policy created and facilitated an inherently dangerous conflict of interest, which pitted a Buffalo police officer’s official duties and professional responsibilities to continuously uphold the laws of the State of New York and protect constitutionally guaranteed civil rights from infringement against his personal financial interests in furthering the private profit of his bar employers and/or fellow bar employees,” the suit says.
The policy also violated the Alcohol Beverage Control Law, which prohibits police from working at bars and other locations where alcohol is served, according to the suit.
The suit says the policy caused Eloff and O’Shei to fail or refuse to enforce the law against their bar employers and bar employees, including Basil, noting that they did not arrest him that night and let him go home.
It says the policy contributed to the violation of Sager’s civil rights, as well as his injuries and eventual death.
The lawsuit also accuses the city, the Police Department, Derenda and the BPBA of letting officers work “under the direction of convicted felons,” including Basil.
Besides carrying the unconscious Sager outside the bar and handcuffing him at Basil’s direction, the suit says, the officers failed to immediately call 911 for emergency medical assistance or provide him with reasonable medical care.
The suit accuses Eloff and O’Shei of unlawful arrest for handcuffing and confining Sager outside the bar “without probable cause that he had committed or was about to commit a crime.”
It also contends that they used excessive force “in the handling, movement, arrest and handcuffing” of Sager and failed to intervene to protect his rights, despite a duty as police officers to do so. In addition, it accuses the officers, along with Basil, of assault and battery and negligence in their treatment of Sager.
The suit faults the city for hiring Eloff and O’Shei “without first adequately scrutinizing their backgrounds, previously reported incidents of misconduct … and/or their personnel records from their previous law enforcement employers.”
The city’s decision to hire the officers “without first scrutinizing their backgrounds was the moving force behind and/or directly and proximately caused” the violation of Sager’s civil rights, it says.
The suit also names NHJB Inc., doing business as Molly’s Pub; NHJB’s owners, Norman Habib and John Bradley; and Michael Miranda, owner and landlord of the Main Street property, who leased the premises to NHJB.
It accuses them of negligence in hiring Basil as manager despite knowing about “Basil’s propensities to engage in offensive, violent, criminal and/or unconstitutional acts.”
The suit accuses them, along with Basil, of negligence in hiring Eloff and O’Shei despite knowing about the officers’ violent propensities.
In addition, the suit says Basil, Eloff and O’Shei were all drinking that night at the bar and were intoxicated.