An investigation by the United States Attorney’s Office, Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice and the FBI concluded today there was insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges for an alleged hate crime against an 18-year-old biracial woman that occurred in Madison on June 24, 2020.
The hate crime was also investigated by the Madison Police Department, and according to the MPD incident report, the woman was was burned with lighter fluid while she stopped for a red light at State Street around 1 a.m.
She heard a racial epithet and was surrounded by four white men. A white man sprayed liquid on her face and neck and then threw a flaming lighter at her. According to the hospital staff, the liquid was lighter fluid.
The FBI, state and local government and a team of federal prosecutors from the U.S. State Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Wisconsin and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division worked together on the investigation, according to a press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“The federal investigation sought to determine whether the evidence was sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a violation of the federal civil rights statutes, including Title 18, United States Code, Section 249,” the press release stated. “Section 249 criminalizes willfully causing bodily injury to a person because of that person’s actual or perceived race.”
The press release stated that there were extensive interviews, exhaustive review of traffic and surveillance video and expert review of digital and forensic evidence. After reviewing “all available evidence,” federal officials were unable to establish that the attack had occurred as alleged by the victim. Federal officials also determined there is “insufficient” evidence to prove that a violation of any federal criminal statute occurred.
“Accordingly, the federal investigation into this incident has been closed based on the lack of evidence,” the Attorney’s Office stated.
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In a news statement by Acting Chief of Police Vic Wahl, the MPD stated the case is now closed.
MPD conducted an investigation independent of the Attorney’s Office and U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. Both investigations reached the same conclusion, according to a press release by MPD.
The victim’s family released a statement, saying they will not be granting interviews and will continue to maintain their family privacy.
“Althea Bernstein and her family appreciate the detailed investigative efforts by all involved in this case,” the family said. “Althea’s injuries are healing and the support of our community has been invaluable in that regard.”