BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Suspended Buffalo Police Officer Joseph Hassett pleaded not guilty, Tuesday, to a five-count indictment accusing him of roughing up a prisoner in his custody at the city’s Police Central Booking, last March.
This was Hassett’s second time pleading not guilty to the same charges in a second court. He was initially charged with assault, filing false statements, and official misconduct, in city court. Then two days before his trial was set to start, last month, Hassett was indicted by a grand jury, sending the case to state court.
Hassett pleaded not guilty to the five misdemeanor counts of his indictment. He is accused of tripping a prisoner in his custody, while processing him at Central Booking. The fall caused the suspect who was handcuffed, to be injured, and the incident was captured on surveillance cameras.
Defense attorneys have questioned the Erie County District Attorney’s office for charging Hassett in city court, going through pretrial proceedings—including the dismissal of the official misconduct charge–then taking the case to a grand jury, just before the non-jury trial.
Buffalo attorney, and News 4 Legal Analyst Barry Covert called the district attorney’s tactic unusual, “that they waited for the city court judge to issue a ruling dismissing one of the charges, and then go to the grand jury and seek an indictment that includes a misdemeanor charge that is similar to the one that was dismissed.”
The DA’s strategy might seem unusual, but Covert added, “They absolutely have the statutory authority to do that.”
Defense attorneys are questioning how the grand jury could indict Hassett for official misconduct, after a city judge dismissed the same charge. It is a question, the new judge, State Supreme Court Justice Russell Biscaglia might be asked to rule on.
Hassett’s attorneys have maintained his innocence throughout the proceedings, and Tuesday Hassett pled not guilty.
The Buffalo police officer is suspended with pay, pending the outcome of the criminal case, but Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda has said, even if Hassett is acquitted he could face departmental charges.