Bethany Bump, Times Union, June 16, 2017
The former University at Albany students who were convicted of falsely reporting a hate crime on a CDTA bus last year avoided jail time Friday, and instead received a sentence of probation, community service and a fine.
The possibility of jail time for Ariel Agudio and Asha Burwell loomed large over Friday’s sentencing in Albany County Court, where spectators and supporters of the women packed a standing room-only gallery. The Albany County Probation Department had recommended a split sentence for the women — time in jail followed by time on probation.
But Roger McDonough, the acting justice who presided over the eight-day trial in April and offered stern words for the women Friday, instead imposed a sentence of three years’ probation, 200 hours of community service and a $1,000 fine.
The case against Agudio and Burwell has attracted national attention in the year and a half since the women first called 911 and took to social media to report they had been attacked on a bus by a group of white students because they were black.
Fellow students and members of the public were initially outraged to hear of the incident, but soon soured after video footage from the bus appeared to show the opposite: the black women attacking white passengers on the bus. Audio of the 911 calls were also released in which Agudio could be heard saying “I beat up a boy” and “I had three bitches down” before an operator picked up.
Alexis Briggs, a fellow student who also reported a hate crime but faced lesser charges, accepted a plea deal from the district attorney’s office last summer of community service in exchange for a public apology.
Agudio and Burwell, who were expelled from the university following the ordeal, rejected a deal.
McDonough told them Friday he had heard nothing throughout the trial or afterwards that demonstrated they had any “true acknowledgement” of the chaos their actions caused.
“I’ve seen the video. The jurors saw the video — all the video from the bus,” he said. “What occurred on that bus is nothing close to what you reported Ms. Agudio and Ms. Burwell.”
He scolded Agudio, in particular, for her comments on the 911 call, in which she sounded “cavalier and certainly gleeful” about assaulting other students and warned the operator she would “contact the news” if nothing was done.
A number of UAlbany faculty members wrote letters to the judge prior to sentencing, urging him not to impose a jail sentence for, among other reasons, the chilling effect it could have on other students who experience bias-related crimes, Mishler said.