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Calhoun acquitted of hate crimes in Buffalo traffic altercation

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

A jury found a Lockport man not guilty Friday morning of all charges, except one misdemeanor menacing count, in a case the Erie County District Attorney's office was prosecuting as a hate crime.

Calhoun was involved in a minor traffic accident last July on Colvin Avenue near Sanders Road in Buffalo. Prosecutors alleged that after the crash, Jeanneie Muhammed exited her vehicle and walked away from the scene. Calhoun, they argued, followed Muhammed and attempted to keep her at the scene by holding onto her purse.

Video capturing the confrontation shows the defendant drawing a gun. His accuser, an African-American Muslim woman, claimed he used a racial slur against her, chased her and forced her to the ground.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn, who was out of town attending a law enforcement conference, expressed his disappointment in the verdict and insists there was "corroboration" that led him to pursue hate-related counts.

"The underlying actions of the defendant here, in what did as far as trying to keep the victim there at the scene, which he ultimately tried to do by pulling out a gun, his actions trying to keep the victim at the scene were because he thought she had no insurance," Flynn said in a phone interview. "She had insurance. Her insurance card was in her glove compartment. But he jumped to the conclusion that she was trying to flee and leave because she had no more insurance. Well, why is that okay? Is it because she's African-American? Is it because African-Americans, what, they don't have insurance?"

Daniel Henry, Jr., Calhoun's attorney, says his client did not utter any racial slurs during the confrontation, adding that Buffalo Police officers investigating the incident reached the same conclusion. He also credited the jury for its work.

"The fact that they acquitted him of that clearly shows that they believed and know what really happened, that this was never a crime from the outset," he said.

Calhoun, who was tearing up outside the courtroom, declined to comment but his attorney says he regrets how the incident unfolded.

"I think if you had an opportunity to sit through the trial and see the the video, it's very emotionally charged," Henry said. "He's very visibly shaken, and scared. And I think it was just a sense of the whole situation going on, that he ended up doing something that, looking back on it today, he very much regrets but never did he ever want to cause any harm."

The charges from which Calhoun was acquitted included unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime, third-degree assault, criminal impersonation of a police officer and one count of harassment in the second degree. A robbery charge previously raised against Calhoun was dropped in December. Flynn says the displaying of the gun was caught on video, which led to Calhoun's menacing conviction. But he concedes other claims in the case were not on video, making it a matter of "he said, she said."

"The initial confrontation, when he same to her car, when he allegedly said he was a police officer, that was not on video." Flynn said. "Quite frankly, the majority of the charges here were not on video. The part that was on video, the menacing, that's what they found him guilty of."

Calhoun faces up to a year in jail when sentenced May 26.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.