A hard-working Manhattan bodega employee who was forced to grab a knife to ward off a violent ex-con is now behind bars in the notorious Rikers Island jail on murder charges and unable to post $250,000 bail .
The sky-high bail for Jose Alba – who has no criminal history – was only half of what the office of controversial Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg asked for, even though surveillance video showed the clerk being assaulted by his alleged victim at the bodega .
Alba, 51, has been charged with the fatal stabbing of 34-year-old Austin Simon, who rushed behind the counter at Hamilton Heights Grocery on Broadway and West 139th Street on Friday night to attack the store employee.
“Right now it was either him or the guy,” Alba’s daughter Yulissa told The Post on Wednesday, saying it was a case of self-defense.
“He’s never hurt anyone. He’s never had an argument where he had to defend himself. This is the first time for him.”
The harrowing incident followed an argument Alba had with Simon’s girlfriend, whose EBT debit card was refused when she tried to use it to buy chips for her 10-year-old daughter at the store, police and law enforcement sources said.
The 32-year-old woman claimed Alba snatched the snack from her daughter’s hand – so she knocked over objects on the counter and ran home to get Simon, who burst into the bodega and attacked Alba about 10 minutes later.
During the fight, according to Alba’s defense attorney, Simon’s friend allegedly stabbed the worker in the shoulder with a knife she had in her purse – but she is not charged.
However, Bragg’s office charged Alba, a father of three who moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic 30 years ago in search of a better life, with second-degree murder. He became a US citizen 14 years ago.
“It wouldn’t be that surprising for someone to think they’re being harmed or robbed, especially if the woman you just got into a verbal argument with is also with that person and ended up taking her.” own knife from a purse and stabbed my client,” Alba’s attorney Michelle Villasenor-Grant said at his indictment on Saturday.
Despite this, the friend’s instigator is at large, while Alba could walk away for 15 to 25 years if convicted of second-degree murder.
Bragg has come under fire since taking office in January, revealing his “Day One” policy against jailing all but the most violent criminals and ordering prosecutors to downgrade some felony charges to misdemeanor charges.
Still, his prosecutors demanded that Alba be held on bail or $500,000 bail. But Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Eric Schumacher instead set bail at $250,000 in cash or a $500,000 bond, noting that he posed a flight risk after prosecutors argued he was due next week previously planned return trip to the Dominican Republic.
Prosecutors are expected to present the case to a grand jury for indictment on Thursday.
His family called Alba “a good citizen” who simply feared for his life.
“He’s not used to this behavior,” son Jeffrey Alba, 27, said on Wednesday. “He’s not used to this kind of aggression. At the moment he feared for his life.
“He was never locked up, he was never in trouble,” said the heart-stricken son. “I’m 100 percent sure he regrets it, but I think at that moment he just blanked out and went into self-defense mode.”
Footage of the attack showed an angry Simon pushing the shopkeeper against a wall and standing over him menacingly, then grabbing him as the frightened elderly man tried to get past the attacker.
Alba then reached behind a row of candy bars and pulled out a knife – according to court records she stabbed Simon at least five times.
The criminal complaint filed by prosecutors admits that Simon “shoved the defendant” while Alba was behind the counter. It also says Simon tried to “steer” Alba behind the counter.
Simon can be seen on video rushing over to the worker, pushing him onto a shelf and grabbing his arm while yelling at him – until Alba grabs the knife and stabs him.
“There is no clearer example of self-defense,” former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney Michael Discioarro said on Wednesday.
“He’s at work, minding his own business, and being attacked,” Discioarro said. “He’s the victim, and he’s in Rikers. This is a working person who was attacked. How does the DA come to this conclusion? A jury will correct this.”
Manhattan Defense Attorney Jason Goldman said he expects prosecutors would have a hard time selling their story to a jury.
“I think a New York jury at a trial will not only sympathize with him, but find that he acted in reasonable self-defense,” Goldman said.
“Alba was attacked, cornered and saw the victim reach into his own back pocket before attempting to flee while defending himself,” Goldman said.
Alba’s daughter remarked, “When the guy came in and pushed him, my dad didn’t do anything.”
“As soon as the guy walked in, he started showing him the receipt — like, ‘Listen, that’s why me and your girlfriend were fighting. She has no money. I can’t do anything,” Yulissa Alba said.
She said her father used to own his own bodega but now works for another owner.
“I worked for him for many years and he never had a situation like that,” she said of her father. “When he had his own bodega, he would feed anyone who was hungry. If someone wanted a cigarette and promised to pay later, they would give it to them. He had that confidence.”
Arriving on Wednesday, Simon’s girlfriend declined to comment, saying only that she was “not well” after losing her boyfriend in the scuffle.
In a statement, a spokesman for District Attorney Alvin Bragg said, “We continue to review the evidence and the investigation is ongoing.”
Prosecutors had argued in court that Alba could walk away if they were not held on bail and pointed to the planned trip to the Dominican Republic. They also noted that he confessed to police, “I took the knife we used to open boxes and I stabbed him,” according to the hearing transcript.
But Villasenor-Grant of Neighborhood Defender Services in Harlem told the judge her client had never been in trouble with the law — and was going nowhere.
Simon, on the other hand, was already on probation at the time of the fatal encounter for assaulting a police officer – and has at least eight prior arrests, including assault, robbery and assault during a domestic dispute, sources and records show.
State corrections records show he was serving a second-degree assault charge for assaulting the police officer before his parole last year.
Additional reporting by Georgett Roberts and M’Niyah Lynn
https://nypost.com/2022/07/06/nyc-bodega-worker-jose-alba-charged-in-fatal-stabbing-feared-for-his-life-family-says/ New York bodega worker Jose Alba charged with fatal stabbing in fear for his life, family say