On the morning of July 16, Jeanneie Muhammad was driving on Colvin Avenue near Sanders Road in North Buffalo when she said she "bumped" into the car in front of her.
She got out of her vehicle as did the driver of the other car, Jeffrey Calhoun, 62, of Lockport.
Prosecutors say that Calhoun then grabbed Muhammad, bit her and displayed a handgun, some of which was captured on a cellphone video by a bystander. They also allege Calhoun, who is white, called Muhammad, who is black, a racial slur.
Tuesday morning, a grand jury indicted Calhoun on two felony charges as hate crimes – unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime and menacing as a hate crime. He was also indicted on a felony count of impersonating a police officer and a misdemeanor count of third-degree assault.
He pleaded not guilty and remained released on $75,000 bail.
The charges marked the first time Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn has filed charges against a defendant for a hate crime during his term as DA.
"I firmly believe that race was a motivation here in Mr. Calhoun's alleged actions," Flynn told reporters after Calhoun's court appearance before State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns. "I believe I have the evidence that backs up my belief. Is it a slam dunk, though? It's not."
Jeffrey Calhoun of Lockport accused of grabbing a woman, biting her and displaying a handgun after a fender bender in July in North Buffalo indicted on 2 hate crime charges
— Maki Becker (@makibecker) September 3, 2019
Flynn explained that a hate crime "is not in and of itself a crime." It's used to elevate an underlying crime, which essentially adds the possibility of more prison time if there's a conviction.
If convicted of the most serious of the charges, first-degree unlawful imprisonment, Calhoun faces up to seven years in prison.
Initially, Calhoun was charged with attempted robbery for allegedly taking Muhammad's keys and trying to take her purse.
But Flynn said he decided to drop the attempted robbery charge because the investigation showed he wasn't trying to permanently take those items.
"I didn't have proof of a robbery," Flynn said.
However, the investigation did turn up evidence that Calhoun used a racial slur, although that wasn't shown on the video.
The use of a racial slur does not necessarily constitute a hate crime, Flynn said.
"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.
"Buffalo is a city of good neighbors. Buffalo is a city of love. When someone chooses hate, they have to face the consequences. Mr. Calhoun is now facing the consequences."
Calhoun is scheduled to return to court on Oct. 2.