Murder charges dropped in Harlem bodega stabbing case

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office asked a judge Tuesday to officially drop murder charges against Harlem bodega worker Jose Alba.

Alba was working behind the counter of the Blue Moon bodega on July 1, when an altercation involving a patron, Austin Simon, resulted in Alba stabbing Simon to death.

Bragg’s July 19 decision to dismiss murder charges against Alba came three weeks after the incident occurred and after the bodega spent five days at Rikers Island — allegedly developing an infection from a wound sustained during the fight.

“The People have determined that we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was not justified in his use of deadly physical force,” the motion by Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Sigall reads. “In applying facts to the law—the core of every system of justice—it is crucial to conduct a factual investigation that permits the prosecutors in this office to make fair and objective determinations as to what criminal charges to bring. In this matter, examination of the facts shows that this case cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, and, consequently, the People move to dismiss the charges against the defendant Jose Alba.”

Mayor Eric Adams addressed the incident, citing raising crime rates in the city and telling another tabloid that Alba was “just doing his job and someone aggressively went behind the counter to attack him,”

The DA’s office provided new information into the confrontation, which was caught on two CCTV cameras.

Simon allegedly entered the bodega around 11 p.m after his girlfriend alleged that Alba had grabbed a snack from Simon’s 10 year old daughter when the girl’s mother couldn’t pay for it with her Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card.

When Alba touched the girl’s hands, Simon’s girlfriend allegedly threw items across the bodega  counter yelling that “Now, my [expletive]’s gonna come down here right now and f— you up!”

About five minutes after this initial altercation, Simon is heard on surveillance footage outside of the establishment encouraging Alba to step outside and fight.

Footage of the fight went viral and showed Simon getting physically aggressive and pushing Alba as Simon is heard trying to make Alba apologize to the young girl.

Right before Alba is shoved by Simon and then grabs the knife with which he used to attack Simon, Simon is heard yelling “[Expletive], what’s wrong with you? Why you snatch anything out of her hands,” according to the DA’s office.

After Alba was shoved by Simon behind the bodega counter, he retrieved a knife with which he stabbed Simon six times – piercing his heart, lungs and jugular.

Simon was pronounced dead on arrival at Harlem Hospital at 11:50 p.m and NYPD officials arrested Alba for the crime and initially set bail at $250,000 before dropping it to $50,000. 

In the legal memo, ADA Sigall notes that while Simon did appear to have a box-cutter knife in his possession at the time of his death and attack under New York law, “one cannot use deadly physical force to defend against only physical force.”

However, supporters of Alba have said that his age as well as his physicality compared to Simon (Simon being nearly 30 years younger and five inches taller) contributed to Alba’s belief that at the time his life was genuinely being threatened.

“Simon’s conduct in entering the store’s small, private area, throwing Alba against the wall to a place he could not escape, and grabbing him by the collar could inspire deep fear in an older and shorter man as to what might be in store next,“ Sigall wrote.

Sigall added, “This was also in the context of the girlfriend saying five minutes earlier that her boyfriend was going to “come down here right now and f— you up.”

To prove self-defense outside of the home in New York State, an individual must prove that they used physical force “to avoid an imminent public or private injury,” in a situation not of their own making, “which is of such gravity that, according to ordinary standards of intelligence and morality,” the benefit of avoiding that injury outweighs the benefit of avoiding the use of physical force in the first place.

New York also imposes a “duty to retreat” law which means that if someone believes they are in imminent danger or physical harm, they must first attempt to flee or retreat from the scene before physically responding. This is different from some states’ “stand your ground” laws. 

The United Bodegas of America – a trade group that represents bodega owners in the United States – publicly defended Alba and used this particular case to advocate for New York to pass a “stand your ground” law.

The Yemeni American Merchants Association (YAMA) also defended Alba’s actions and expressed gratitude for DA Bragg’s decision to dismiss the murder charges against him.

“We commend DA Bragg for his willingness to meet with and listen to community leaders from across New York who were tirelessly advocating for Mr. Alba’s freedom,” the July 19 statement read. “This was a tragic incident, but ultimately it was clear that this was an issue of self defense and pursuing legal action was not justified. Unfortunately bodega owners like Mr. Alba are targets for violent incidents on a daily basis, and it is clear that we must do more to keep them safe and help ensure something like this never happens again.”

Last updated 7/19/2022 3:42 pm