University at Albany President Robert Jones said alleged false reports by students of a racial attack on a CDTA bus were “very unsettling” and that “we expect our students to tell the truth.”
The president of the Capital Region’s largest university addressed the media on Friday after the University Police Department reported the day before that two women who claimed they were victims of a racial attack lied about the incident.
“I asked the university police to do a very thorough job to investigate the allegations when they were made and they did just that,” Jones said. “I’m very grateful for the matter in which they went about thoroughly investigating this issue. It’s now up to the courts to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendants.”
911 callsAriel Agudio’s first call to Colonie Police Department. Ariel Agudio’s call transferred to Albany Police Department. Ariel Agudio’s second call to Albany Police Department. Asha Burwell’s call to the Albany County 911 center. Asha Burwell’s call transferred to Albany Police Department.
Three women are being charged with assaulting another woman and two are facing charges of falsely reporting an incident after a fight on a CDTA bus in the early morning of Jan. 30.
Police say Ariel Agudio, 20, of Huntington; Alexis Briggs, 20, of Elmira Heights; and Asha Burwell, 20, of Huntington Station, physically assaulted a 19-year-old woman from Congers, Rockland County, on a CDTA bus in the area of Western Avenue shortly after 1 a.m. that day.
Agudio is charged with third-degree assault, third-degree falsely reporting an incident, third-degree attempted assault and fourth-degree attempted criminal mischief. Briggs is charged with third-degree assault. Burwell is charged with third-degree assault and third-degree falsely reporting an incident.
Jones said that the women could also face disciplinary action by the university based on the school’s code of conduct. It is unclear at this time if the students will be suspended or expelled.
“It is a long process,” Jones said of the code of conduct. “I cannot comment on what the outcome will be. It depends on the case. There is no time frame. These things are done very methodically.”
The three women are still enrolled at UAlbany and are attending classes, Jones said. He said the university is working to ensure that they are safe while on campus. He said he is not aware of any threats made against them at this time.
“We made them aware of the resources we have available,” he said. “We have reached out to them several times over the last several weeks to see if they have any concerns about their safety. We have done that consistently.”
Jones confirmed that a male student who was on the bus during the incident has withdrawn from the school after reports that he received death threats and accusations that he stood and watched the fight.
Burwell’s last tweet
Please don’t confuse my silence with defeat. I’m still fighting this, like I said I will not give up. The truth will come out soon.
— Asha Burwell (@AshaBurwell) February 11, 2016
Burwell and Agudio called 911 and reported the incident to police the morning of Jan. 30. Police say they falsely claimed that they were victims and were actually the aggressors in the altercation.
“They continued to assault the victim despite the efforts of several passengers to stop them,” police said in a press release on Thursday.
Based on the audio recordings, police said, “the only person we hear uttering racial epithets was one of the defendants. And it is important to note that no witness reported hearing any racial slurs directed at the defendants. And those witnesses were people from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.”
Days after the incident, Burwell wrote on Twitter, “I begged for people to help us, and instead of help, they told us to ‘shut the [expletive] up’ and continuously hit us in the head.”
On Feb. 11 Burwell also tweeted, “Please don’t confuse my silence with defeat. I’m still fighting this, like I said I will not give up. The truth will come out soon.”
A rally was also held on campus in support of the women, who are black, using the hashtag #DefendBlackGirlsUAlbany.
The incident went national and even caught the attention of Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
University police said they conducted a three-week investigation that included reviewing audio and video, interviewing 35 passengers on the bus, along with other evidence.
Police have since released surveillance video of the incident and 911 recordings of calls made by Burwell and Agudio.
“I feel compassion for anyone who has been affected by these events and I feel compassion for anyone who feels that they are victims of what has occurred over the last few weeks,” Jones said.
Jones defended a statement he issued shortly after the incident that said, “three of our students were harassed and assaulted” and that he’s “deeply concerned, saddened and angry about the incident.”
Jones said he issued that letter in response to information in the police reports at the time and that he wouldn’t do anything differently. In response to UAlbany students asking Jones to publicly apologize for the letter, Jones said “No, I’m not.”
“We had to go with the information that we had in hand,” he said. “We had to respond and the community wanted to hear from me about what happened. I wouldn’t reword it in any way.”
Jones said he believes that the incident does damage UAlbany’s reputation but that the school would move forward.
“Anytime you have something this unsettling it does harm,” he said. “At the same time, this is a very strong university that’s striving to move to the next level of excellence.”
Reach Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro at 395-3114, [email protected] or @HRViccaro on Twitter.
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