Calls Grow to Drop Murder Charge for NYC Bodega Worker in Self-Defense Stabbing

Calls Grow to Drop Murder Charge for NYC Bodega Worker in Self-Defense Stabbing
A police car drives through the Manhattan borough of New York on Jan. 14, 2021. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Cara Ding

Calls are growing across New York City to drop the charge of murder against a Manhattan bodega worker for killing an assailant who was attacking him inside his store on July 1.

Store video shows that Jose Alba was at work in a modest bodega in Upper Manhattan when Austin Smith came behind the counter and physically accosted him. During the alteration, Alba stabbed Smith multiple times with a knife, killing him.

“It is outrageous. The surveillance video makes it very clear that Mr. Alba was defending himself from an aggressive, violent attacker. He should not have been charged,” New York City’s 44th District Councilman Kalman Yeger, a Democrat, told The Epoch Times.

Yeger and six other city lawmakers signed a bipartisan letter urging Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to drop all charges against Alba.

“This case is particularly jarring because you routinely drop charges and waive bail for violent offenders,” the letter stated. “You are simply rewarding the guilty and punishing the innocent.”
Mario Messina, president of Manhattan’s 29th Street Neighborhood Association, told The Epoch Times: “This is self defense. I don’t think [Alba] should be reprimanded. What they are doing to him is too severe.”

Messina, an advertising professional, said he has never seen crime so bad during his 40 years in New York City.

“We see the same actors going and robbing the same stores day in and day out. We receive complaints left and right about people afraid of going out. I don’t think our district attorney has moved swiftly to meet the challenges of the time,” Messina said.

On July 12, United Bodega Workers (UBW) representatives met with Bragg to press the point that Alba acted in self-defense. After the meeting, Bragg’s office told The Epoch Times in a statement, “Since taking office, D.A. Bragg has met with numerous business owners, community leaders, and other stakeholders about public safety. Today’s conversation centered on how to keep bodega owners and workers safe, including in a post-Bruen world when more people may legally obtain and carry firearms.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, visited the bodega about a week after the incident, saying that Alba was a law-abiding citizen and should not have been attacked in the manner shown on the video. But he added that it was beyond the function of a mayor to influence the decision of an elected district attorney.

Initially, Alba faced bail of $250,000. That amount was later lowered to $50,000, which Alba’s boss and relatives helped to cover. Alba was released from Rikers Island on July 7.

Smith reportedly was on parole for a police assault offense at the time of the attack. He confronted Alba after Smith’s girlfriend failed to pay for a bag of chips.

The video also showed Smith’s girlfriend cutting Alba during the altercation, but she was not charged. Jennifer Sigall, a prosecutor assigned to the case, said the girlfriend was justified in stabbing Alba because she wanted to stop Alba’s assault on Smith, according to a police report obtained by Fox News.

Bragg’s office reportedly will take Alba's case to a grand jury on July 20. Under New York law, all felonies must be presented to a grand jury unless a defendant waives the process.

New York criminal defense attorney Todd Spodek told The Epoch Times that given the strong video evidence, it is very likely the grand jury will not indict Alba.

Under New York law, a defendant can be justified in using deadly force if he believes it necessary to defend himself from deadly danger, Spodek said.

The two key elements of self-defense are proportionality and reasonableness, which means the protective force must be proportional to the danger and the beliefs of danger must be reasonable, he said.

“I believe that, based on the evidence, this is certainly a very strong self-defense case,” Spodek said.

Bragg, a former federal prosecutor, was elected in 2021 on a progressive platform to drive down the population behind bars and put more resources into social services.

On his first day in office, he ordered his staff to stop charging a slew of low-level crimes, downgrade a group of offenses to lesser charges, and only recommend pre-trial detention for the most severe crimes.