NEW YORK—A transportation police officer has been cleared of all criminal charges after being accused of aiding a bias-fueled beating of a Muslim religious leader in a subway station.
Manhattan prosecutors dropped their case against Eddie Crespo this week after a grand jury declined to indict him on any charges. Co-defendant Albert Melendez was indicted on a misdemeanor charge, but prosecutors said the specific charge wouldn’t be revealed until his next court date, as is their common practice.
Both were initially charged with assault and robbery as hate crimes in a Dec. 8 episode that sounded alarms among Muslim advocates. The lawyers for the men, however, said religion played no role in what they described as a straightforward scuffle over an accidental nudge on a train.
“This was just a mistake, all along,” Crespo’s lawyer, Arnold Keith, said in an interview Wednesday as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it had reinstated Crespo to his job as a bridge-and-tunnel officer. The 28-year-old, who said he had broken up a fight rather than furthered it, had been suspended without pay and spent about a day in jail after his arrest.
Melendez’ lawyer, who has called the allegations “trumped-up,” didn’t return calls Wednesday and Thursday. Melendez’s longtime girlfriend is from a Muslim family, Keith said.
Prosecutors said in a court document that Melendez, 30, declared “I don’t like Muslims,” and used an insulting term for Muslims or Arabs
while attacking a man wearing a traditional Muslim prayer cap as he tried to get off a subway train in lower Manhattan.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, which issued a press release calling for hate-crime charges as Crespo and Melendez awaited arraignment last week, identified the man as an imam and said one of the attackers smeared all Muslims as terrorists.
Crespo, who is dating Melendez’s sister, was accused of grabbing the imam to help Melendez in the scuffle. A court document said Melendez ultimately punched the imam in the face and threw his kufi—a prayer cap—onto the subway tracks. The imam ended up with a black eye, court papers said.
Defense lawyers said the fight began after Melendez and the imam bumped into each other. Crespo told the grand jury he separated the two, asked the injured man whether he was all right and never saw his kufi, Keith said.
“He certainly did what he was supposed to do, as far as breaking up a fight between two men who got a little bent out of shape,” the attorney said.
A lawyer for the imam didn’t return calls Wednesday and Thursday.
CAIR representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.