Federal prosecutors and police in Madison, Wisconsin are reportedly closing a months-long investigation into the claims of a Black woman who says she was set on fire by white men. The case has been closed due to lack of evidence.
Althea Bernstein, 18, told police in June that four white men yelled a racial slur at her through her rolled-down car window while she was stopped at a traffic light around 1AM on June 24. The story went viral and the Madison Police Department subsequently launched an investigation.
Bernstein alleges that one of the men used a spray bottle to douse her with a liquid and threw a flaming lighter at her. She says this led to the liquid igniting and burning parts of her face and neck.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Madison announced on Friday (October 2) that they had conducted a “thorough investigation” into the incident and closed the case without filing any charges.
"Federal investigators determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove that a violation of any federal criminal statute occurred," the attorney’s office said in a statement. "Further, after reviewing all available evidence, authorities could not establish that the attack, as alleged by the complainant, had occurred."
According to Madison’s acting police chief Vic Wahl "detectives were unable to corroborate or locate evidence consistent with what was reported."
"Detectives conducted numerous interviews, reviewed extensive video, and analyzed physical/digital evidence during the course of the investigation," Wahl added in an additional statement about the case.
Madison police released nearly 160 pages of reports detailing its investigation. Surveillance footage of the intersection where Bernstein says the alleged assault happened do not show another car near her’s. Investigators say they could not find a group of white men on the cameras either.
Bernstein says she told a detective she didn’t understand why there was no evidence and said she’s “100 percent confident of what happened.”
During a meeting between Bernstein’s attorney, Andrea Sumpter, and an investigator, the conclusion emerged that no charges against the teen would be filed as investigators "found no evidence that Bernstein had colluded with anyone to make a false report or that there was any mal-intent or pre-planning that occurred in regards to Bernstein's statement to police."
"I acknowledged to Attorney Sumpter that clearly Bernstein had injuries to her face. I explained to Attorney Sumpter that our interests at this point were identifying if there was someone else responsible for causing these injuries to Bernstein," reports from the meeting read. "If so, our goal was to hold this person responsible."