Authorities Close Investigation Into Wisconsin Hate Crime, Say No Evidence It Occured

Alleged hate crime earned national headlines, was showcased by NFL

Screenshot via Youtube
October 2, 2020

Authorities closed an investigation into an alleged Wisconsin hate crime on June 24, saying they failed to find any evidence that 18-year-old Althea Bernstein was the victim of a racist arson attack, as she claimed.

Bernstein made national headlines on June 24 alleging that four white men in Madison lit her on fire, leaving her with burns on her neck and face. The men, she said, had directed a racial slur at her before throwing lighter fluid on her face. The incident was covered by national outlets from CNN to NBC News.

But federal authorities now say that they were unable to corroborate the details of her claims.

"After reviewing all available evidence, authorities could not establish that the attack, as alleged by the complainant, had occurred," U.S. attorney Scott Blader said in a Friday statement. A statement from Madison's chief of police stated that "detectives were unable to corroborate or locate evidence consistent with what was reported."

In a statement released by police, Bernstein and her family said they "appreciate the detailed investigative efforts by all involved in this case."

In addition to earning national headlines, Bernstein was interviewed on ABC's Good Morning America, included in a floor speech by Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D., Mass.), and received a phone call from Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. She was also included in the NFL's list of "victims of systemic racism, victims of police brutality, and social justice heroes," and her name has been featured this season on the helmet of players such as the Atlanta Falcon's Todd Gurley.

Neither the NFL nor Kennedy responded to requests for comment on Friday's announcement.

Bernstein told police that she was in her car stopped at a red light with her window down when liquid was thrown on her face followed by a flaming lighter. She drove home after the incident and was brought by her mother to the hospital, where she was treated for burns.

Authorities released a detailed timeline of Bernstein's whereabouts on the night of the alleged incident, piecing together all correspondence sent to and from Bernstein's phone, traffic camera footage of her car, and information stored in her iPhone's Health app. The Madison Police Department also made the entire case file for the investigation public.

Michael Johnson, a local community leader who acted as a spokesman for the family, said the city's mayor briefed him on the findings early Friday morning.

"This morning the Mayor and the Police Chief briefed myself and other community leaders about the investigation surrounding Althea Bernstein and I appreciate the time federal authorities and local law enforcement officials put into this case," Johnson told the Washington Free Beacon. "In the meantime, we will continue to provide support to Althea and hope and pray for her healing and well-being."

Neither CNN nor NBC News have reported on the findings of the investigation.