(ALBANY, N.Y.) — Three black women attending the University of Albany who say they were the victims of a “racially fueled” on-campus attack in January by fellow white students now stand accused of assault in connection with the incident.
Asha Burwell, 20, of Huntington Station, N.Y.; Ariel Agudio, 20, of Huntington, N.Y.; and Alexis Briggs, 20, of Elmira Heights, N.Y., each face a charge of assault in the third degree, a crime punishable by up to a year in jail. Burwell and Agudio also face other charges including falsely reporting an incident in the third degree.
Each woman pleaded not guilty Monday during their arraignments in Albany City Criminal Court.
“We understand and believe that there is an enormous amount of community support for getting to the truth and that’s where the defense team is headed,” Burwell’s lawyer Frederick Brewington said.
Around 1 a.m. Jan. 30, Agudio and Burwell made separate calls to 911, reporting that they’d been attacked while riding the Capital District Transportation Authority’s No. 12 bus from downtown Albany, N.Y., to the university’s campus.
In 911 calls, Agudio said one of her friends had asked a group of white students on the bus to be quiet because they were being too loud.
“I just got jumped on the bus and no one did anything. … It was a racial crime. They were calling us ni—- and all this stuff. … It was ridiculous. … They ripped out all of our hair and everything. … Boys were hitting us. … It happened on the 12 bus,” Agudio told a 911 dispatcher. “No one called the cops. … No one cared. … It was a racially fueled crime. Three black girls shoved by, like, 20 white people.”
In a separate call, Burwell said: “The bus driver didn’t do anything about it until we got to campus and he stopped on the bus and still the guys continued to hit us in the face.”
Later that day, university president Robert J. Jones released a statement stating that he was concerned and saddened by the news that a group of 10 to 12 white males and females had used racial slurs toward three black women.
“There is no place in the UAlbany community for violence, no place for racial intolerance and no place for gender violence,” he said in a statement.
And on Feb. 1, students gathered at a rally to show support for the three women, who also attended. The hashtag #DefendBlackGirlsUAlbany was circulated on Twitter, catching the attention of those inside and outside of Albany. Even former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton tweeted about the incident.
There’s no excuse for racism and violence on a college campus. https://t.co/ADVghl4iEv -H
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 4, 2016
By Feb. 25, however, the University of Albany’s police department had released a statement, saying that Burwell, Agudio and Briggs would be arrested and charged in the Jan. 30 incident.
According to the district attorney, Agudio, Burwell and Brigg had caused physical injury to a 19-year-old female passenger by “repeatedly striking her”; Burwell had made physical contact with an 18-year-old female passenger; and Agudio had attempted to cause physical injury to a 19-year-old male passenger and had physical contact with two other females on the bus, ages 18 and 20.
Police said a three-week-long probe included interviews of 35 passengers on the bus as well as the review of various videos and audio recordings from bus security cameras and passengers’ cellphones. Police said that evidence demonstrated that the three women had not been struck by a male and were in fact “the aggressors in the physical altercation” against the 19-year-old female passenger.
The false reporting charge stemmed from initial complaints made by Burwell and Agudio during the 911 calls that they’d been victimized, authorities said. Police called those allegations “false.”
“The evidence shows that, contrary to how the defendants originally portrayed things, these three individuals were not the victims of a crime. Rather, we allege that they are the perpetrators,” police Chief J. Frank Wiley said in a statement. “I especially want to point out that what happened on the bus was not a ‘hate crime.’ We spent a great deal of time carefully reviewing the audio recordings to determine whether any racial slurs were used. The only person we heard uttering racial epithets was one of the defendants. And it is important to note that no witness reported hearing any racial slurs directed at the defendants. And those witnesses were people from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.”
In court Monday, Judge Rachel Kretser said the charges “will have a profound impact on our community and, in fact if proven, are shameful,” according to the Times Union.
In an updated statement posted on the school’s website Feb. 26, university president Jones said: “Our job as a University is to focus on learning from this incident. And our work now is to recommit to our principles of diversity and inclusivity — which means including all people and treating all people fairly. The last month has been a challenging time for this University — but I am very proud of how our campus community responded. On the first day, I asked you to show the world what the University at Albany truly stands for, and to reaffirm our values. And you have done that.”
Agudio’s lawyer, Mark Mishler, called the charges “unwarranted.”
“It is unfortunate that the University at Albany Police Department decided to charge Ms. Agudio. We believe these charges are unwarranted. It is also unfortunate that some in the media and public appear to have reached a conclusion as to what occurred in this incident without actually having the information needed in order to reach such a conclusion. Ms. Agudio, an exemplary young woman and an excellent student who has never previously been in legal trouble, asks that people not rush to judgment in this matter. We appreciate those who have spoken out in support of Ms. Agudio. This case will now play out in the court system. We trust, in the end, that Ms. Agudio will be vindicated,” Mishler said in a previously released statement.
“I would ask people not to rush to judgment. There is a lot that has not been told in the media here. We plan on vigorously defending the allegations against Ms. Briggs, and I think in the end the truth will come out,” Briggs’ lawyer, Will Little, said.
The three charged women are still enrolled at the University of Albany, according to the university.
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