Three UAlbany students faced a judge Monday, appearing in public for the first time since being charged in connection with an alleged assault on a C-D-T-A bus. Two of the women later reported they were victims of a racially motivated attack, a claim police say is false.
One by one Monday, they stood before the judge: Asha Burwell, then Alexis Briggs, then Ariel Agudio — all three pleading not guilty to the charge that they made up a false hate crime.
"If proven, those charges do have a profound impact on our community. In fact, if proven, they're shameful," said Albany City Court Judge Rachel Kretser.
Outside court afterward, none of the women commented. Attorney Mark Mischler decried the level of attention to the case.
"The media is acting inappropriately," he said.
But UAlbany Police say the it was the three young women who acted inappropriately, even violently, aboard a CDTA bus January 30. Police say surveillance video shows the three punching a man and a woman in the face, and pulling another woman's hair.
All three are charged with third-degree assault. Burwell and Agudio are also accused of telling police that they were the victims of a racially-charged assault.
On Sunday, the group Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration, or CAAMI, released a letter to the three women, which states in part: "We anticipated that if and when video was released, it would be devoid of all context, and show only ... select portions of the altercation. ... those expectations were confirmed."
"I don't think there's any question that there's more video than was released to the public," CAAMI spokesperson Angelica Clarke said.
Clarke added that, even more troubling than the purported lack of full video, is the fact that video cannot show all potential racist interactions.
"It's not just measurable in just what's going to be on freeze-frame," she said. "It's not just measurable in what we can kind of 'piece together.' "
"The evidence that I saw didn't support the claims that these young women were making," said Alice Green of the Albany Center for Law and Justice.
Green is not affiliated with CAAMI, but she did attend court Monday, and also read the group's letter. Green was allowed to see video evidence several weeks before the public. And based on what she saw, Green accepts the legal process thus far.
"I knew that I had not seen all the videos. And so, I don't feel deceived," she said.
Lawyers for the three women did not offer statements Monday, but promised more in the future. All three are due back in court March 29.
Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration also wants to draw attention to recent, racist vitriol on social media surrounding the UAlbany assault case. Clarke showed TWC News some posts on Facebook which display racist imagery — including a hangman's noose draped over the American flag.
Clarke says there is no place for such posts in normal civil discourse.
"We've seen, as I mentioned before, this sort of vitriolic and racist commentary that's come from this community — that folks are claiming doesn't exist, right? That there is no racism present here," Clarke said. "And yet, it's very easy to find it."
Clarke says according to information on Facebook, the people who posted those comments do live locally.