On Tuesday, December 5, Buffalo Police Officer Joseph Hassett pleaded not guilty to a five-count indictment that accuses him of tripping a prisoner in his custody. Hassett was initially charged in city court with assault, filing false statements, and official misconduct. He was then indicted by a grand jury two days before his trial was set to start, which moved the case to state court. Defense attorney Barry Covert spoke to WIVB about the Erie County District Attorney’s decision to charge Hassett in city court first before going to a grand jury and what the ramifications of these charges could be. The full story is available on the WIVB website and by watching the video below.
Grand jury review
Mr. Covert told WIVB that it was unusual “that they waited for a city court judge to issue a ruling dismissing one of the charges and then [went] to the grand jury and seek an indictment that includes a misdemeanor charge that is similar to the one that was dismissed.” He explained that “usually you want to have an independent grand jury review and see whether there’s probable cause” but that where the case is brought “really doesn’t speak to whether they think they have a strong case or not.”
Potential for departmental charges
WIVB reports that Officer Hassett is suspended without pay pending the outcome of the criminal case but that, according to Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, he could still face departmental charges if acquitted. “What we’re seeing here is really a reflection of what society has been demanding, which is that these cases be handled openly, transparently, so the public knows exactly what occurred here so there’s no allegation that someone is sweeping this case under the rug,” Mr. Covert said.
About Barry N. Covert
Mr. Covert is a senior partner in Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area. He is known for his aggressive representation of clients in the areas of New York State and federal criminal trials and appeals; driving while intoxicated; constitutional law, including First Amendment, civil rights actions, and federal False Claims Act; defending against allegations of scientific misconduct and fraud, research misconduct and fraud, plagiarism, and fabrication of evidence; and professional licensing defense. Mr. Covert frequently provides legal analysis for WGRZ and other media outlets.