Police in Madison, Wisconsin announced on Friday that they were closing the case on an alleged hate crime involving 18-year-old Althea Bernstein, who alleged that she was burned by four white men while on a drive in downtown Madison, the day the city erupted in protests for Black Lives Matter.
Police were unable to corroborate her claims despite dedicating significant resources to the case.
Now police are stating that the young biracial woman wasn’t even in the city on the night of the attack. The Associated Press reports that detectives found footage indicating that she was outside the city at the time she says she was attacked.
Bernstein told police that she had lighter fluid sprayed on her and was set on fire while sitting inside her car in the early morning hours of June 24 in one of the state’s most liberal cities. She claimed one of the men had called her a racial epithet, prompting police to classify the now-uncorroborated attack as a hate crime.
The initial claim garnered massive interest from the U.S. media, but dropped out of the pages following Bernstein’s silence. Few developments were made in the case, until now.
In a statement on Friday morning, Madison police said it was closing the case because it was unable to find any evidence to back up the teenager’s claims.
Police unable to confirm story or find evidence
"The Madison Police Department is closing the investigation into this case. After an exhaustive probe, detectives were unable to corroborate or locate evidence consistent with what was reported,” said Madison Police Acting Chief Vic Wahl, per the Wisconsin State Journal.
“The Madison Police Department dedicated significant resources to this case. The investigation was led by the MPD Violent Crime Unit, with support from the Forensic Services Unit and Central District,” he stated.
During the investigation, detectives “conducted numerous interviews, reviewed extensive video, and analyzed physical/digital evidence” with assistance from both the FBI and the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation. Ultimately, their efforts came up empty.
Federal review supports police conclusion
According to Wahl, the findings were independently reviewed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Wisconsin and the Department of Justice, both of which arrived at the same conclusion as the Madison police.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said that "after reviewing all available evidence, authorities could not establish that the attack, as alleged by the complainant, had occurred."
Bernstein’s family has maintained relative silence on the unproven attack since the teenage girl went public with the claim, and said in a statement that it appreciated “the detailed investigative efforts by all involved in this case,” and asked for privacy.
Wahl said the police department is not recommending that Bernstein be charged with obstructing a police officer, which usually happens in cases where a person makes a false police report.
"We were unable to corroborate [Bernstein's story], but we are not speculating on what did and did not happen," he said.