Three women who said they were victims of a racially motivated attack on a CDTA bus in January — allegations police later said were false — pleaded not guilty Wednesday morning to all charges against them in Albany County Court.
Ariel Agudio, Alexis Briggs and Asha Burwell, all 20, then were released on their own recognizance by Judge Stephen W. Herrick.
On Monday, the three women were indicted on charges of assault, harassment and falsely reporting an incident for an event police say happened on a CDTA bus in the early morning hours of Jan. 30.
Police alleged the women, then students at the University at Albany, injured a 19-year-old woman by hitting her several times on the bus. Agudio and Burwell then allegedly told police dispatchers they had been attacked because of their race. All three women are black.
Hempstead attorney Frederick K. Brewington, who represents Burwell, said the case against the women has featured some things he described as “unusual.”
“One of those things that’s unusual is indicting misdemeanors and violations and using the grand jury as a tool to hide behind,” Brewington said in brief statements to the press after the court proceedings. “We believe that in this particular situation, justice will be served and we’re going to take the steps that are necessary to address that.”
Brewington did not disclose any possible strategies or approaches. “We’ll leave that for members of the D.A. to receive our papers and be able to handle that in front of this honorable court,” he said.
As for clients’ moods, Brewington said only, “They’re seeking justice.” Agudio is being represented by Albany attorney Mark S. Mishler; Albany’s William Little is the attorney for Briggs, the only one of the three women still enrolled at UAlbany.
Herrick did not allow photographs or video recordings in the courtroom, but did allow audio. The next action in the case will come May 26, when Herrick has scheduled attorney conferences. A trial in the case has been scheduled for September.
Members of the press followed Agudio and Burwell as they walked away from the Albany County Judicial Center under umbrellas on a rainy day. “Just keep walking,” Brewington said to them. On the sidewalk, Brewington said he had never before seen a case like this. He declined to talk about his chances. “I don’t gamble,” he said.
The defendants had between 15 and 20 friends in court supporting them.
“We support justice and transparency, balance. That’s what justice is supposed to be about,” said Dr. Daphne Chandler, a professor in the UAlbany department of Africana Studies. “The issue here is that it’s been completely one-sided, there has not been any balance.”
Chandler has been in touch with the women. She said they’ve felt shock, betrayal and anxiety.
“Everyone’s in limbo, waiting to see what’s going to happen with this case,” Chandler said. “These are young, goal-oriented, never-have-been-in-trouble-before college students. They had goals, they had plans ... more than anything, just like any other young person would be, they’re waiting to see what their future holds, what’s going to be on their final transcripts.”
Chandler believes the proceedings against the women have not been fair.
“The university and the D.A., working in concert, have not released all the information that they have,” Chandler said. “The little that they do have, that makes it look like these three girls made false allegations, they exaggerated. They decided to just focus on that, because that sheds a good light on the university and they were able to just pin it on these girls.”
Another supporter, Deidre Dumpson, also was critical of UAlbany.
“I feel like the biggest betrayal is from the university and the administration there,” said Dumpson, a graduate student in women’s studies at the university. “What they’ve done to these three women has pretty much been a slap in the face to every black woman at the school. They’ve pretty much said that if anything ever happens to you, unless you are seriously hurt or you’re killed, nobody will care, nobody will believe you and nobody will be there to support you.”
Karl Luntta, director of media relations at UAlbany, said the university would have no response.
Agudio, of Huntington, faces one count of assault, three counts of attempted assault, three counts of falsely reporting an incident and three counts of harassment.
Burwell, of Huntington Station, faces one count of assault, four counts of falsely reporting an incident and one count of harassment. Briggs, of Elmira Heights, faces one count of assault and two counts of falsely reporting an incident.
Agudio is accused of assaulting bus rider Mary Glisson, 19, rushing to the area where Glisson sat and climbing over a seat occupied by others. Agudio allegedly struck Glisson several times; Burwell is accused of striking Glisson in a similar manner.
Glisson suffered neck injuries and bruises to her face.
Agudio is also accused of trying to assault bus rider Robert McCarthy, 19, who used his cellphone to record Agudio after the incident with Glisson.
Chief Assistant District Attorney David M. Rossi represented the District Attorney’s Office.
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.