Prosecutors in a possible hate-crime case involving a biracial woman who alleged she was set on fire by a group of white men closed the case, citing not enough evidence to prove the attack happened, the Associated Press reported Friday.
Althea Bernstein, 18, told police she was attacked by four white men while driving through a protest in downtown Madison, Wisconsin on June 24. Detectives said they were unable to find any surveillance video showing that the attack took place. However, they did find footage indicating that Bernstein was not in the city at the time she says she was attacked, the AP reported.
CASE CLOSED: On June 24, Althea Bernstein said she was lit on fire by 4 white men while sitting in her car at a red light in downtown Madison.
Today, detectives say they were unable to corroborate her story or locate any evidence consistent with what she reported. pic.twitter.com/QJSUEdeBjE
— Brittney Ermon (@Brittney_NBC15) October 2, 2020
Bernstein said she was stopped at a red light at around 1 a.m. the night of the alleged attack when she heard someone yell a racial slur, and one of the men sprayed her with lighter fluid through her open window, and then threw a flaming lighter at her, setting her neck and face on fire. (RELATED: We Witnessed The Kenosha Shootings. Here’s What Really Happened)
She said she tried to put it out, and drove through the red light. “I just felt like I needed to get away. So I drove through the red light and just kept driving until I got to my brother and Middleton,” she said in June according to Madison 365. She drove herself to the hospital instead of calling an ambulance, as nurses had suggested.
She said she was reasonably certain the attackers were four white men who “looked like classic Wisconsin frat boys.”
The U.S. attorney’s office in Madison issued a statement Friday saying the investigation was closed without charges filed after investigators conducted extensive interviews and exhaustive reviews of traffic and surveillance cameras, along with digital and forensic evidence, according to the AP. They couldn’t establish that the attack occurred, and Madison Acting Police Chief Vic Wahl said in his own statement that detectives were unable to “locate evidence consistent with what was reported.”
Madison police released more than 150 pages of reports detailing the investigation Friday. Traffic and surveillance camera footage showed Bernstein’s vehicle stopping only once, and no one was around the car. The footage also shows that her window was closed and she was traveling in the right lane, not the left as she told investigators, according to the AP. An arson dog found no trace of a lighter or other incendiary device in her car, which wasn’t damaged.
Tests showed a substance consistent with lighter fluid on her shirt, and her medical records indicate she was treated for burns hours after the alleged attack.
GPS from her phone also corroborates her claim that she was in Middleton, a suburb nearby Madison, just before 1 a.m.
The attack allegedly happened the same night as protests were occurring in Madison, which Bernstein said she was not participating in according to Madison 365. Two days prior, violent riots included the toppling of two statues and an attack on a state senator in Wisconsin.
“Althea Bernstein and her family appreciate the detailed investigative efforts by all involved this case,” Bernstein’s family said in a statement. “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 told a detective that she didn’t understand why there wasn’t any evidence of the attack, and was worried about what could happen when reports were made public of the investigation. Detective Justine Harris wrote that Bernstein said “I know what happened to me.”
No one has planned to file charges against Bernstein, citing lack of evidence that she colluded with anyone to make a false report, Harris told Bernstein’s attorney according to the AP.