George Soros-backed Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg (D.) is throwing the book at a middle-aged bodega employee who defended himself during a deadly assault in Harlem, an unprecedented move for an office that has abandoned customary bail, charging, and sentencing guidelines for many criminals.
Bragg's office charged 51-year-old Jose Alba with second-degree murder and was holding him on $250,000 bail at Rikers Island after a struggle last weekend over a bag of chips ended with the death of Austin Simon, a man with a lengthy criminal record who was on parole for assaulting a police officer. The decision to charge Alba with murder and set his bail so high is at odds with many cases the Manhattan office has handled. Last week, the mother of a slain Army veteran laid into a Bragg attorney in court, accusing the prosecutor of a miscarriage of justice after one of the assailants involved with the killing got just a seven-year prison sentence. Bragg concealed information from a court in a January assault and robbery case, in which a man who robbed a T.J. Maxx with a pair of scissors was only charged with a misdemeanor.
Bragg in March set no bail for and freed an offender with a long rap sheet who was charged with beating a 67-year-old man to death. In the past two months, he has twice released offenders before trial who have gone on to be charged with murder. One was released from jail the day before he struck. In another case, Bragg twice freed a gang member without bail, even though the gang member was charged for a series of stabbings.
The Manhattan district attorney's office initially requested $500,000 bail for Alba, but a judge struck that down as excessive. The Soros prosecutor dropped it again on Thursday to $50,000 following public outcry over the case, but is retaining a charge for murder.
Voters in November elected Bragg, who was raised in Harlem, following a campaign that pledged to seek prosecutorial leniency for many offenders and reduce incarceration. When Bragg ascended to office in January, he told his prosecutors in a memo to avoid prison sentences for most felony cases except under "extraordinary circumstances."
Soros in 2021 donated more than $1 million to Bragg's campaign, pushing Bragg through a heated Democratic primary with eight other candidates. The contribution is of a piece with the more than $40 million the Democratic megadonor has contributed to place dozens of liberal prosecutors in half of America's largest jurisdictions, a Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund (LELDF) report found. Many are now in the grip of a crime wave.
"It is clear that social justice prosecutors, including Alvin Bragg, are only interested in prosecuting police and others forced to defend themselves against violent criminals," LELDF president Jason Johnson told the Washington Free Beacon. "By upending the justice system these prosecutors are inflicting chaos on the cities they swore to protect. It is urgent that voters wake up and permanently end this failed experiment."
After Simon's girlfriend last week allegedly stabbed Alba, Simon lunged behind the counter. A fight ensued, and Alba, who according to his family was afraid for his life, reached for a boxcutting knife and turned it on Simon to subdue him. The 35-year-old ex-convict died later at the hospital. Alba's daughter told the New York Post on Wednesday, "It was either him or the guy at the moment."
"He's never hurt anybody," she said. "He's never had an altercation where he had to defend himself. This is the first time for him."
A GoFundMe set up by Alba's family was deleted without explanation on Thursday. The page had raised about $20,000. In a rather different case, a teenage New York City rapper who shot an NYPD cop to death was released on bail in January after posting just $15,000 of his $250,000 bond.
Simon's girlfriend pulled a knife from her purse and stabbed Alba after her debit card was declined, said Michelle Villasenor-Grant, the bodega employee's attorney. The knife-wielding girlfriend ran out of the store to grab Simon and bring him back after Alba refused to let her purchase some chips. Bragg's office has not charged her.
"It would not be that surprising that someone thinks that harm is going to come to them or that they are going to be robbed, particularly if the woman that you just got into a verbal argument with is also with this person, and ended up taking her own knife out of a purse and stabbing my client," Villasenor-Grant said on Saturday at an arraignment hearing.
Crime data show that in the last three years homicide is up 52 percent in New York City. Shootings are up more than 100 percent, and car theft is up 91 percent, according to the New York Police Department. In 2021, the Big Apple recorded nearly 500 homicides, its most in a decade.
Alba is a native of the Dominican Republic and became a U.S. citizen 14 years ago. He may be released on bail as soon as Saturday. Simon's criminal history includes charges of assault, robbery, and domestic violence.
New York City mayor Eric Adams (D.) on Thursday said Alba did not break the law when he acted in self-defense during the attack.
"I saw a worker here inside the store following the law and he should not have been approached in the manner he was approached," Adams said. "It's time for New Yorkers and Americans to stand up for people who follow the law."