By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Federal prosecutors said Friday there’s not enough evidence to prove that a young biracial woman was set on fire during a protest in Wisconsin this summer.
Althea Bernstein, 18, told police she was attacked by four white men while driving through a protest June 24 in downtown Madison. She said she heard someone yell a racial slur and one of the men sprayed her with lighter fluid through her open window and threw a flaming lighter at her, setting her neck and face on fire.
She drove away, put out the flames, and was treated for burns at a hospital, she said.
A team of federal and state investigators probed the allegations as a possible hate crime. On Friday, the U.S. attorney’s office in Madison issued a statement saying the investigation was closed without charges filed.
The statement said investigators conducted “extensive” interviews as well as an exhaustive review of traffic and surveillance cameras and digital and forensic evidence and couldn’t establish that the attack occurred.
Madison Acting Police Chief Vic Wahl issued his own statement, saying detectives were unable to “locate evidence consistent with what was reported.”
Bernstein’s family issued a three-sentence statement through the Madison Police Department saying they appreciate investigators’ work.
“Althea Bernstein and her family appreciate the detailed investigative efforts by all involved this case,” the statement said. “Althea’s injuries are healing and the support of our community has been invaluable in that regard. We continue to maintain our family privacy and will not be granting interviews at this time.”
The alleged assault came amid a night of violence that included the toppling of two statues outside the Capitol and an attack on a state senator. A group of 200 to 300 people protested the arrest of a Black man after he shouted at restaurant customers through a megaphone while carrying a baseball bat.
According to investigative documents, Bernstein told the responding officer she is Hispanic and Black.
Someone also threw a Molotov cocktail into a government building and attempted to break into the Capitol, only to be repelled by pepper spray from police stationed inside. The violence prompted Gov. Tony Evers to activate the National Guard to protect state properties.