Upstate NY students who claimed bias attack plead not guilty to charges

State University of New York students (left to right) Alexis Briggs, Asha Burwell and Ariel Agudio entered not guilty pleas in Albany, New York, Monday, February 29, to charges stemming from what university police say was a false report of a racially motivated attack on a city bus.

Story highlights

  • Three African-American students said they were attacked by a group of white men and women on an Albany bus
  • Alleged hate crime victims were actually the perpetrators, police say
  • The three plead not guilty to assault and harassment charges; two of them also plead not guilty to falsely reporting

(CNN)Three State University of New York students who said they were the targets of a racially motivated attack on an Albany bus pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of assault and harassment. Two of the three also pleaded not guilty to charges of falsely reporting the incident.

The charges against the women come weeks after the upstate New York university held a rally in support of the African-American students, who said they were attacked by a group of white men and women during a confrontation on a bus January 30.
    But the university police department said last week that a three-week investigation found the three women actually assaulted a 19-year-old female passenger in the incident, were not subjected to racial epithets and falsely reported the alleged crime.
    "The evidence shows that, contrary to how the defendants originally portrayed things, these three individuals were not the victims of a crime," university Police Chief Frank Wiley said in a statement prior to the arraignment. "Rather, we allege that they are the perpetrators."
    Ariel Agudio, 20, faces charges of assault in the third degree, falsely reporting an incident in the third degree, attempted assault in the third degree, harassment in the second degree and attempted criminal mischief in the fourth degree; Alexis Briggs, 20, faces a count of assault in the third degree; and Asha Burwell, 20, faces charges of assault in the third degree, harassment in the second degree and falsely reporting an incident in the third degree.
    The false reporting charges stem from the initial 911 calls made to police by Agudio and Burwell.
    Attorney Mark Mishler, who represents Agudio, said in a statement that the charges are "unwarranted."
    "It is also unfortunate that some in the media and public appear to have reached a conclusion as to what occurred in this incident without actually having the information needed in order to reach such a conclusion," Misher said in the statement. "Ms. Agudio, an exemplary young woman and an excellent student who has never previously been in legal trouble, asks that people not rush to judgment in this matter."
    Calls by CNN to attorneys for Briggs and Burwell were not immediately returned.
    Agudio and Burwell were released under the supervision of the state Department of Probation. Briggs was released with the condition of a 9 p.m. curfew, according to Albany City Court Clerk Shawn Gallagher.
    The evidence gathered against them included interviews with 35 bus passengers, video from security cameras on the bus and mobile videos taken by passengers, according to police.
    "No male struck the three women," the police statement said. "The evidence indicates they were actually the aggressors ... and that they continued to assault the victim despite the efforts of several passengers to stop them."
    The 19-year-old woman the students allegedly assaulted has not been identified.
    "What happened on the bus was not a 'hate crime,'" Wiley, the university police chief, said. "The only person we heard uttering racial epithets was one of the defendants."
    After the incident was reported, the hashtag #DefendBlackGirlsUAlbany appeared on social media.
    The People of Color Caucus, Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration published a letter Monday in support of the students.
    The university has approximately 17,000 students, with African-Americans making up 15% of the student body, according to the school's website.