A Lockport man charged in a Buffalo road altercation earlier this summer now faces four new counts, two of which accuse him of a hate crime.
Tuesday morning, Jeffrey Calhoun was arraigned in State Supreme Court on charges of unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime, menacing as a hate crime, third-degree assault and criminal impersonation of a police officer. The 62-year-0ld defendant entered a plea of not guilty and did not comment after leaving the courtroom.
Calhoun is accused of grabbing a female motorist whose car had reportedly struck his at Sanders and Colvin during the morning of July 16. According to prosecutors, Calhoun grabbed the woman, Jeanneie Mohammad, allegedly bit her and then threw her to the ground before brandishing a weapon.
"In this case here, the totality of circumstances, the context of the entire incident with his use of the alleged racial slur, is what I believe elevated it to a hate crime," Flynn said. "That is why he was charged as such."
Calhoun remains free on $75,000 bail, the condition set in his previous arraignment in Buffalo City Court. At that July 17 court appearance, Calhoun was charged with one count of attempted robbery in the first degree, one count of menacing in the second degree, and one count of harassment in the second degree. On Tuesday, though, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn explained that upon further investigation, the defendant had no intention to rob Mohammad.
"He didn't mean to permanently take her purse or keys," he said. "The evidence that came out was that he took he purse, or attempted to take her purse, and took her keys because he didn't want her to leave the scene."
If convicted of the most serious count, Calhoun could face up to seven years in prison. By dropping the robbery charge, though, Calhoun is spared the possibility of serving up to 15 years behind bars.
The incident was captured on video by a neighbor, Precious Santiaga.
WARNING: Video contains coarse language
Flynn told reporters Tuesday he does not fault the Buffalo Police officers who originally arrested Calhoun for not pursuing hate crime counts, explaining they didn't have the evidence immediately in front of them to make that decision. He also offered a message to community and civil rights advocates who originally pushed for hate crime charges at Calhoun's City Court appearance.
"I follow the evidence wherever it leads," Flynn said. "I think everyone knows me as a fair individual. I'm going to charge with the evidence that I have."
It is, according to the DA, his first attempt to prove a hate crime since he took office. He admits it will "not be a slam dunk."