The Althea Bernstein case in Madison has languished now for months. It was June when the 18-year-old teenager, from Monona, claimed that four white men called her a racial slur and tossed a liquid on her, throwing a lighter or match on her and burning her face. A riot was going on around the same time in which people were trying to set the Madison City-County building on fire.
And that’s about all we’ve learned since then.
That’s what we wrote on Thursday night. You can see our list of 10 unanswered questions below from Thursday’s story. There was a big update on Friday.
UPDATE: The United States Attorney’s Office announced Friday that authorities “could not establish that the attack” claimed by biracial Monona teenager Althea Bernstein “had occurred.” Thus, they closed the federal investigation. Read our new story on that here.
“After a thorough investigation into the events of June 24, 2020, including extensive interviews, exhaustive review of traffic and surveillance video, and expert review of digital and forensic evidence, federal investigators determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove that a violation of any federal criminal statute occurred,” the federal press release said. You can read it here.
“Further, after reviewing all available evidence, authorities could not establish that the attack, as alleged by the complainant, had occurred. Accordingly, the federal investigation into this incident has been closed based on the lack of evidence.”
Before that release, we believed there are at least 10 key lingering questions about the case that the public deserved to have answered. Here’s what they were:
- Why were no surveillance videos or images been released? Are we really to believe that these mysterious four white men, roaming around Madison, were captured on no doorbell, traffic or surveillance cameras? If police have such images, wouldn’t they be seeking suspects by publicly releasing it? Instead when asked about video, they’ve merely said the investigation is ongoing.
- Why haven’t police released a composite sketch from Althea of the mysterious four white men?
- Why did a protest leader claim detectives asked Bernstein to recant her story? Do they doubt it? The Madison police chief denied that claim. “Madison Police asked her to revise her statement…and admit she lied,” the protest leader told WKOW-TV.
- Is it significant or just coincidence that a person was photographed tossing a Molotov cocktail with what appears to be charcoal lighter fluid at the Madison City-County building during rioting just a few hundred yards from where Bernstein claimed she was burned by four white males. Nurses suspected that charcoal lighter fluid burned Bernstein?
- After initial multiple media reports, including an interview with Good Morning America, why did Bernstein hire a criminal defense attorney and go silent until speaking at a late August protest? Why did Bernstein’s mother delete her social media account?
- Why was Bernstein in the vicinity of a riot and firebombing at 1 a.m.?
- Did police find the lighter? How did it stay lit? It’s possible a Zippo lighter was used but, in that case, where is it? Wouldn’t there be fingerprints on it?
- Bernstein called the police at 5:45 p.m. later that day, almost 17 hours later. Why did Bernstein wait so many hours to call police and report the incident?
- Why did she initially describe the men as “a group of people,” but later got more specific about their race as time went on?
A woman started a GoFundMe page to help Althea start an animal rescue farm. It raised almost $10,000. However, she later wrote, “I am going to close this campaign now with gratitude. Since it did not reach the goal amount for the campaign, and since she is still in the process of acquiring a farmette, I would like to share this link below if you would like a refund on your contribution. I want to make sure that nobody feels uncomfortable about their donation. I want everyone who has contributed to feel good about their gesture.” The organizer disabled new contributions to the GoFundMe.
These are legitimate questions that deserve answers.
There’s another question police should answer: Is the public in danger? Are four mysterious, racist white men really roaming around the community? Are Black Madisonians at risk of being burned in their cars? Don’t people need to know this?
We have reached out to Madison Police multiple times, but have never received any answers to these questions.
Will an answer come soon?
Again: Stay tuned.