By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Most charges have been dropped against a pair of men accused of attacking an imam in a downtown subway station this month.
Albert Melendez, 30, from Harlem, and Eddie Crespo, 28, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority officer from Staten Island, were initially accused of making anti-Muslim remarks while assaulting a 49-year-old imam Dec. 8 on the uptown A platform at Canal Street, according to police.
Both men were charged with assault and robbery as hate crimes after they allegedly called the imam a "camel jockey," punched him in the face and threw his kufi, a religious head covering, on the subway tracks, prosecutors said.
But all charges were dropped against Crespo after a grand jury voted not to indict him this week, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office said. And the grand jury downgraded the felony charges against Melendez, indicting him only on a misdemeanor, the DA’s office said.
The misdemeanor charge will not be revealed until Melendez is arraigned in Supreme Court on Jan. 11, the DA’s office said. It is unclear whether he is still being charged with a hate crime.
While prosecutors initially described the confrontation as a bias-fueled attack initiated by Melendez, Angel Soto, Melendez’s lawyer, described it as a chance encounter gone awry.
At Melendez’s first court appearance earlier this month, Soto said Melendez was on his way home Dec. 8 when he made accidental contact with the imam. Melendez extended his hand to apologize, but the imam refused to touch it, Soto said.
As the argument escalated, Crespo stepped in to break it up, Soto said.
Soto said the hate-crime charges were "trumped-up."
Soto and Crespo’s lawyer did not immediately return calls for comment Friday.
The DA’s office declined to comment on the dropped and downgraded charges.