Two University at Albany students from Long Island who claimed they were the victims of a racially motivated attack last month face assault charges after university police determined the women were the aggressors, officials said Thursday.
Asha Burwell, a 2013 graduate of Walt Whitman High School in West Hills, and two other African-American women — including another from Long Island — said they were beaten and called racial epithets by 10 to 12 white students as they rode a Capital District Transportation Authority bus in Albany Jan. 30.
The reported melee prompted a campus rally attended by hundreds of students, faculty and staff who came out in support of the women.
The University Police Department said in a statement Thursday its investigation determined Burwell, 20; Ariel Agudio, 20, of Huntington; and Alexis Briggs, 20, of Elmira Heights, assaulted another passenger on the bus, a 19-year-old woman.
Investigators found no evidence the trio were targeted because of their race, “and no evidence that racial slurs were directed toward them.”
Sami Schalk, assistant professor in the university’s English department, supported the students from the start, but now said she feels differently about the case.
“I do not feel the same way about the incident. However, I don’t believe there were pure victims and pure villains in this case,” she said. “I am deeply saddened for these young women whose lives are forever altered by this situation. I’m honestly saddened for everyone involved.”
The students are scheduled to be arraigned Monday at Albany City Police Court. All three face assault charges. Burwell and Agudio each face an additional charge of falsely reporting an incident.
Thirty-five bus passengers were interviewed by authorities, who also reviewed 12 video recordings from a security camera on the bus along with four videos taken by passengers.
A series of 911 calls made by the three women also were considered.
“We took this incident very seriously and did a thorough and careful investigation,” New York State University Police Chief J. Frank Wiley said in a statement. “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.”
Some students have said the case polarized the campus and brought undeserved, negative attention to the school.
University president Robert Jones, in a letter to students after the case developed, said he was concerned, saddened and angered by the incident.
In a statement Thursday, Jones said: “I want to thank the University Police Department for doing a careful and thorough job, and I want to thank the community and our students, faculty and staff for being patient as this investigation took place.
“This matter is now in the hands of the criminal justice system. I look forward to the resolution of this case.”
Burwell, a high honor roll student in high school and a former member of Whitman’s varsity track and tennis teams, spoke briefly at the Feb. 1 rally. She said in a video on Twitter, “We are determined to seek the justice which we deserve and we will not give up.”
Attempts to reach Burwell were not successful.