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Wednesday 7 December 2022
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Expelled Albany Students Found Guilty of Falsely Reporting Hate Crime

In a surprising end to a strange case, two former University at Albany students who were charged with assault and falsely reporting a hate crime have been found not guilty of the former but guilty of the latter.

Ariel Agudio and Asha Burwell were on a bus full of intoxicated students last January when a fight broke out. Although the two African American women initially told 911 operators and social media followers they had been jumped by a group of white people on a bus, surveillance camera footage later showed their account of the so-called hate crime was totally inaccurate.

Agudio and Burwell contacted police after getting off the bus and reported they had been attacked due to the color of their skin. They said the bus driver and other passengers didn’t do anything to stop the attack. Instead, the girls claimed they sat and watched or recorded the event on their cell phones. According to Pew Research, approximately 97% of Americans ages 18 to 24 have cell phones, so there would have been ample opportunity among these students to capture such an incident.

Immediately following the fight on the bus, the young women turned to social media, rehashing the night’s events on Twitter. At first, the general public was outraged on their behalf and offered nothing but sympathy for their plight. But the surveillance footage from the bus told a much different story: the alleged victims were seen harassing and physically attacking other passengers on the bus.

Agudio and Burwell were expelled from the university and charged in a case that went to trial last month. Both testified in court that the fight broke out when a white female passenger referred to the pair as “ratchet bitches.” Burwell also testified that she heard the N-word used at least two separate times as the fight began.

A third friend on the bus, Alexis Briggs, was involved as well. Authorities determined she played a smaller role in the fight. She also reported the alleged hate crime to the police, but later accepted a plea deal, stating in court that her statements ventolin inhaler were untrue. She told a judge she “should have done more to correct the narrative and truthfully explain what happened on the bus.”

Agudio and Burwell were also offered plea deals, but both turned them down.

Chief Assistant District Attorney David Rossi instructed the jury — comprised of three black jurors and nine white jurors — that while it was possible that racial bias may have been present on the bus that evening, witness testimony and video footage clearly illustrated that Agudio and Burwell started the brawl.

But in a shocking twist, the jury found the pair guilty only on charges of falsely reporting a hate crime. They were cleared on charges of assault and other false reporting charges.

The women and their families declined to speak with media after the split verdict was handed down, but their lawyers expressed their partial acquittal should vindicate their supporters. Agudio’s lawyer, Mark Mishler, also expressed his frustration that the case was ever brought to court at all.

“This trial could have been avoided had the district attorney’s office acted reasonably from the beginning,” he said to the media. “They’ve treated this as if it were the crime of the century from the beginning. It’s not even a crime in our opinion.”

But in a statement, District Attorney David Soares stressed that the pair’s false report leads to “immeasurable harm” to those who will actually experience a hate crime in the future. Their actions could make others doubt these legitimate crimes. In addition, they caused valuable resources to be taken away from “real victims” who actually need police help, said Soares.

Frederick Brewington, Burwell’s attorney summed up to the media:

“One of the things that’s been made very clear is that hopefully the dialogue concerning race and implicit bias and how people treat each other when they speak to each other and address each other and the language that you use needs to be carefully evaluated, not only by the University at Albany but by the district attorney’s office here in Albany.”

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