News and Commentary

Madison Police Spokesman Gives Update In Alleged Hate Crime Against Biracial Teen
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Madison Police Department spokesman Joel DeSpain said Wednesday that there is no new information available from authorities to report in the alleged hate crime against Althea Bernstein, an 18-year-old biracial teen.

On June 24 at around 1 a.m., Bernstein claims a group of four white men stopped her at a red light, sprayed her with gasoline, set her on fire, and hurled a racial epithet.

The City of Madison Police Department, with help from the FBI, are investigating the alleged assault on the teen as a hate crime.

“The victim believes she was driving on W. Gorham St. when she stopped for a red light at State St.,” the department’s incident report page says. “Her driver’s side window was down and she heard someone yell out a racial epithet. She looked and saw four men, all white. She says one used a spray bottle to deploy a liquid on her face and neck, and then threw a flaming lighter at her, causing the liquid to ignite. She drove forward, patted out the flames, and eventually drove home. Her mother encouraged her to go to a hospital.”

As noted by the Wisconsin State Journal, Bernstein said the four males looked like “frat boys,” claiming that two of them were “wearing floral shirts and blue jeans,” and the others “were dressed all in black and wearing masks.”

“Hospital staff believed the liquid was lighter fluid,” the incident report continues. “She was treated for burns, and will need to make follow-up visits to access additional medical care.”

As of Wednesday, authorities confirmed that there is no new information to report concerning the alleged attack.

“Little information about the June 24 incident has been released as the Madison police and the FBI continue to investigate,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported Thursday.

The report noted that DeSpain said Wednesday “that he regularly checks with the lead detective on the case, along with the department’s Violent Crimes Unit, and said it is still an active investigation.”

“There is nothing new to release at this time,” the police spokesman confirmed.

The last update from the Madison Police Department’s crime reports was issued on June 30. At that time, a reward for information leading to an arrest was bumped from $5,000 to $10,000:

In addition to Madison Area Crime Stoppers’ $5,000 reward, the Center for Combating Antisemitism, a division of the international nonprofit StandWithUs, in partnership with the Mizel Family Foundation, is offering an additional $5,000 reward to individuals who provide information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators.

If you have information related to this incident, please contact Madison Area Crime Stoppers at 608-266-6014, or, on the web at

Total reward money regarding this hate crime is now $10,000.

Andrea Love Sumpter, an attorney acting as a spokeswoman for Bernstein and her family, said via email Wednesday that the police department is “still in regular contact and actively investigating the case,” according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

The alleged victim, said Love Sumpter, “continues to deal with the trauma she experienced day by day.”

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