Jan 10


Almost fired, then promoted

The city tried to dismiss a Buffalo police officer but was rebuffed by an arbitrator. He’s not only back on the streets, but the district attorney has reversed himself and says the detective can once again testify in court.

A Buffalo police officer once charged with assault, tagged for termination and barred from the witness stand has been promoted to detective and is again allowed to testify.

“Irremediable problems of credibility” prompted a ban on Joseph Hassett taking the stand, District Attorney John Flynn wrote in a 2019 letter to police. The department then put Hassett on desk duty and sought termination.

After an arbitrator overruled the department in 2020, Hassett returned to street duty. He’s now a detective.

“Oh my god,” attorney Richard Weisbeck responded during a recent deposition when Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia revealed that Hassett had been promoted.

A year ago, Flynn rescinded his edict, saying that Hassett could testify on a “case-by-base” basis.

Read our original story on Joseph Hassett

What’s changed since 2019?

“I regret using the word ‘irremediable,’” said Flynn, who barred Hassett from testifying after a judge acquitted him for allegedly tripping a handcuffed prisoner, then jumping on him.

“I mean, Charles Manson is irremediable. … I don’t know why, quite frankly, I did use that word at the time. Looking back on it, that was an inappropriate word.”

Flynn told Investigative Post that Gramaglia called him about a year ago and praised Hassett, then a detective.

Erie County DA John Flynn

“Gramaglia told me, ‘I just wanted you to know that Hassett’s doing a great job,’” Flynn said. “I also spoke to one of his immediate supervisors as well. I said ‘How’s he doing?’ I got the same response. Hard-working. Diligent. No integrity issues at all. So, based upon that, I gave him a second chance.”

Hassett, 38, hasn’t testified since Flynn rescinded his ban, according to the district attorney. Flynn said that he would prefer putting other officers on the stand. He acknowledged that might not always be possible and predicted that defense attorneys will bring up Hassett’s disciplinary record during testimony.

“If I don’t have to use him, I won’t use him,” Flynn told Investigative Post. “Obviously, if he’s the one who finds the bloody glove, I have to use him.” 

It’s not clear when Hassett moved from patrol officer to the detective bureau. Flynn said he can’t recall when he found out, or how. 

Hassett returned to the street in 2020 after an arbitrator cleared him of alleged wrongdoing that included charges of failure to give impartial testimony, filing a false report, and arresting someone without a warrant for something that didn’t occur in his presence. During a recent deposition, Gramaglia, who became the city’s top cop in 2022, testified that his predecessor Byron Lockwood promoted Hassett.

Hassett made $95,908 in 2022, according to state payroll records.

During his first decade as a cop, through 2019, Hassett racked up 21 internal-affairs complaints that resulted in two suspensions and two reprimands, according to department files. Eleven complaints involved use of force. Fourteen complaints are marked not sustained, meaning there wasn’t sufficient evidence to determine whether Hassett had done anything wrong.

Hassett is the only Buffalo police officer known to have been banned from the witness stand, according to Flynn and Gramaglia, who said that Flynn’s ban on testimony, not Hassett’s conduct as a cop, prompted the department to remove him from patrol in 2019.

He wasn’t taken off the street … because it was believed that he was a danger to the public, he was taken off the street because we received a first-time ever letter stating that the district attorney would not prosecute any case that he had direct evidence in, and the fear is that he could be involved in a case up to and including a homicide, and could be the determining witness in that case, and the DA wouldn’t prosecute,” Gramaglia testified during a deposition in a lawsuit against the city brought by Martin Gugino, who suffered a fractured skull after being pushed by police in front of City Hall during a June 2020 protest.

The commissioner wouldn’t say whether he would endorse Hassett as a witness in a homicide trial.

“I didn’t say I endorse (testimony from Hassett) or not,” Gramaglia said during his deposition. “If he’s telling the truth, I endorse truthful testimony.”

“Irremediable” could become fodder for defense attorneys seeking to discredit Hassett, according to Paul Cambria, a Buffalo defense attorney. It’s not certain, he said, but jurors might be allowed to see Flynn’s letter, he said.

“If he was exonerated, I could see the judge precluding that,” Cambria said. “For the most part, judges would probably let them get into it and his response would be ‘I was acquitted.’ ”

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“If I was cross-examining him, I would say ‘Was that a jury trial? Was that a jury of your peers?” 

Rodney Personius, Hassett’s lawyer, said neither he nor his client would comment. The PBA did not respond to a request for comment.

After an arbitrator ruled in Hassett’s favor, Personius noted in 2020 that a judge and a grand jury also had considered allegations against him and found no wrongdoing. 

“On each occasion, he has been, in all respects, exonerated,” Personius told Investigative Post in 2020.

Lockwood, whom Gramaglia says promoted Hassett, could not be reached for comment.

It’s not clear what options Lockwood might have had under civil service rules that determine promotions based on results of written tests and seniority. Investigative Post has requested test results from the city under the state Freedom of Information Law.

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Under civil service rules, the police commissioner can choose from three candidates, and that’s what Lockwood did, according to Gramaglia’s testimony. 

Gramaglia, who said he was “quite sure” that Lockwood chose from three candidates, testified that he didn’t recall whether the former commissioner asked for his opinion when Hassett was elevated to detective.

“Commissioner Lockwood usually determined who he was going to promote and who he wasn’t,” Gramaglia testified. “That’s the right of the police commissioner.”

Asked during the deposition whether he or the commissioner said, while considering promotion, that Hassett shouldn’t be elevated due to his history of complaints, Gramaglia responded: “You’d have to ask Commissioner Lockwood. He’s the one who promoted him. I did not promote him.”

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