News and Commentary

Prosecutors Close Probe Into Alleged Hate Crime Against Biracial Teen, Cite ‘Lack Of Evidence’
Police badge (amphotora/Getty Images)
amphotora/Getty Images

Madison, Wisc., police dropped an investigation into an alleged hate crime against an 18-year-old biracial woman on Friday after finding little evidence to corroborate the woman’s story.

Althea Bernstein told police in June that she was attacked by a group of four white men while stopped at a light in Madison. Local police partnered with the FBI and U.S. District Attorney Scott Blader of the Western District of Wisconsin to investigate the case.

The Madison Police Department closed its investigation on Friday after spending “significant resources” looking into Bernstein’s claim. Investigators were not able to establish that the alleged attack ever occurred.

“After an exhaustive probe, detectives were unable to corroborate or locate evidence consistent with what was reported,” the police department said in a statement.

Blader’s office issued a similar statement saying that the case could not move forward for “lack of evidence.”

“After a thorough investigation into the events of June 24, 2020, including extensive interviews, exhaustive review of traffic and surveillance video, and expert review of digital and forensic evidence, federal investigators determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove that a violation of any federal criminal statute occurred,” the U.S. attorney’s office said. “Further, after reviewing all available evidence, authorities could not establish that the attack, as alleged by the complainant, had occurred. Accordingly, the federal investigation into this incident has been closed based on the lack of evidence.”

Bernstein’s family released a three-sentence statement through the Madison Police Department thanking officials for their work.

“Althea Bernstein and her family appreciate the detailed investigative efforts by all involved in this case. Althea’s injuries are healing and the support of our community has been invaluable in that regard. We continue to maintain our family privacy and will not be granting interviews at this time,” Bernstein’s family said.

In late June, Bernstein reported to police that while she was stopped at a light, a group of four men attacked her and burned her face and neck. She was stopped with her driver’s side window down when she heard someone yell a racial slur and saw a group of four white men approaching her.

According to the police incident report:

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.

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

Police investigated Bernstein’s allegation as a potential hate crime.

Bernstein reported the attack amid riots that were rocking the Wisconsin capital. During the civil unrest, rioters knocked down two statues and attacked a state senator. The violence pushed Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to activate the National Guard to come into Madison and restore order, according to The Associated Press.

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