(New York Post) A hard-working Manhattan bodega clerk who was forced to grab a knife to fend off a violent ex-con, now finds himself sitting behind bars at the notorious Rikers Island jail charged with murder and unable to post $250,000 bail.
The sky-high bail for Jose Alba — who has no known criminal history — was just half of what controversial Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office demanded, despite surveillance video showing the clerk being assaulted by his alleged victim in the bodega.
Alba, 51, was charged with the fatal stabbing of Austin Simon, 35, who can be seen storming behind the counter at the Hamilton Heights Grocery on Broadway and West 139th Street to attack the store worker Friday night.
“It was either him or the guy at the moment,” Alba’s daughter Yulissa told The Post Wednesday, saying it was a case of self-defense.
“He’s never hurt anybody. He’s never had an altercation 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 declined 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 grabbed the snack out of her daughter’s hand — so she knocked over items on the counter and ran home to get Simon, who stormed into the bodega and attacked Alba about 10 minutes later.
During the fight, Simon’s girlfriend allegedly stabbed the worker in the shoulder with a knife she had in her purse, according to Alba’s defense attorney — but she is not facing charges.
Bragg’s office, however, charged Alba, a dad of three who moved to the US from the Dominican Republic 30 years ago searching for a better life, with second-degree murder. He became a US citizen 14 years ago.
“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,” Alba’s attorney Michelle Villasenor-Grant said at his arraignment Saturday.
Still, the gal pal-instigator is free while Alba could go away for 15 to 25 years if convicted on the second-degree murder charge.
Bragg has been under fire since he took office in January and unveiled his “Day One” policies against locking up all but the most violent criminals and ordering prosecutors to downgrade some felony charges to misdemeanors.
Still, his prosecutors asked that Alba be held on $500,000 bail or bond. But Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Eric Schumacher set the bail at $250,000 cash or a $500,000 bond, instead, finding that he was a flight risk after prosecutors argued he had a previously planned trip back to the Dominican Republic scheduled for next week.
Prosecutors are expected to present the case to a grand jury for an indictment on Thursday.
His family called Alba “a good citizen” who had simply feared for his life.
“He’s not used to this behavior,” son Jeffrey Alba, 27, said Wednesday. “He’s not used to this type of aggression. At the moment he was in fear for his life.
“He’s never been locked up, he’s never been in trouble,” the heartsick son said. “I’m 100 percent sure he’s regretting it, but at that moment I think he just blanked out, went into self-defense mode.”
Footage of the attack showed an irate Simon shoving the shopkeeper into a wall and menacingly standing over him, then grabbing him as the frightened older man tried to get past the attacker.