Law enforcement has decided to close the case on alleged hate crime victim Althea Bernstein. The 18-year-old claimed in June that she had been attacked by four white men who had poured lighter fluid onto her face and burned her in a vicious and racially motivated attack.
According to The Wisconsin State Journal, the Madison Police Department announced it was closing the case, declaring that “after an exhaustive probe, detectives were unable to corroborate or locate evidence consistent with what was reported.”
“We were unable to corroborate [Bernstein’s story], but we are not speculating on what did and did not happen,” claimed Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl.
In addition, the FBI and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, which had also been looking into the matter, released a similar statement that explained their decision to close the investigation as well.
“After reviewing all available evidence, authorities could not establish that the attack, as alleged by the complainant, had occurred,” it read.
Over the summer, the alleged crime earned headlines across the country and the world, as the United States had just begun its summer of Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd. Bernstein even spoke of the incident on Good Morning America and earned a personal phone call from Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex.
But despite national attention and a $10,000 reward for information on any potential perpetrators, few leads emerged.
“I don’t have any room for hate or holding grudges so I hope these men see what happened to me and choose to make a change in their lives”. —Althea Bernstein via the family spokesman. pic.twitter.com/DVvola5gK5
— Amaka Ubaka (@AmakaUbakaTV) June 26, 2020
As a result, the case quickly became a subject of interest to those who follow hate crime hoaxes, with many critics claiming that Bernstein had fabricated the event. One of the main pieces of evidence for the theory is that police did not release surveillance video footage in an attempt to get more information on the possible suspects. This is uncommon for crimes committed in the downtown area, as almost all public locations are filmed by the city cameras — in addition to the hundreds of private cameras that authorities have accessed in the past.
That said, Wahl has stated that his department is not recommending Bernstein be charged with obstructing an officer, which is often a course of action following a false report. Though a representative of the U.S. Attorney’s Office was not available for comment on whether the FBI would be pursuing charges against Bernstein, Wahl stated that he did not believe that the agency was looking into such a course of action.
Meanwhile, Berstein’s family thanked officials for the “detailed investigative efforts” and asked for privacy following the announcement. They maintained that Bernstein had been the victim of a racially motivated attack.
“Althea’s injuries are healing and the support of our community has been invaluable in that regard,” they added.