A suspended Buffalo Police officer accused of roughing up a drug suspect while in police custody last year was found not guilty of all charges against him Thursday in State Supreme Court.
Joseph Hassett walked out of the courtroom a free man and to the cheers of numerous family and colleagues who attended the announcement of the verdict in a non-jury trial that concluded May 8.
"We put on a strong case," said lead defense attorney Timothy Hoover. "Not just the video, (but also) expert witness and our client testified first for the defense. He was credible, believable and again, as we said from day one, he didn't do anything wrong. He's innocent."
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn, following the trial, said State Supreme Court Judge Russell Buscaglia is a justice he highly respects but he "respectfully disgarees" with the verdict. In his opinion, the actions captured on a Central Booking video showed wrongdoing.
"I prosecuted this case because I thought a crime had been committed," said Flynn, who suggested that the decision to pursue charges came following a similar opinion by the Buffalo Police Department's internal affairs division. "I think, quite frankly, the video speaks for itself. And I think that the evidence that led up to the video speaks for itself as well."
Hoover said the defense provided what the prosecution did not: an expert witness who convinced the court that Hassett used only the necessary level of force to subdue the person he was handling last March.
"The expert witness testified that Officer Hassett was properly trained, acted in accord with his training, the result which was the use of force that was very limited and was reasonable under Article 35," Hoover said.
Flynn disagreed, arguing that enough steps had already been taken to assure Hassett's safety.
"The victim here was searched three times prior to this incident," he said. "There was clearly no weapons that he had. Also, the victim had sweat pants on. There were no internal pockets, there were no external pockets in the back of his sweatpants."
Flynn added that the video shows front pockets of the sweatpants were turned outward and while the victim was squirming, it was to pull his sweat pants back up.
When Hassett may return to work with the Buffalo Police Department is unknown. Hoover explained his client will need to undergo an administrative process but did not know the timeline for that to occur.
Hassett also faces a pending civil suit filed by the person in custody.
He did not comment upon leaving the courtroom but an unidentified supporter among his entourage said, "go get the real criminals."
Flynn, meanwhile, said a wide majority of law enforcers conduct themselves properly but Thursday's decision will not deter him from prosecuting any cops accused of wrongdoing on the job.
"Believe me, this is not going to affect me at all. I'm not going to be spooked by this 'not guilty' verdict," he said. "You can trust me on that."