Court upholds UAlbany student's expulsion after bogus hate crime allegations
Three women in 2016 case falsely said they were attacked because they were black
ALBANY — A state appeals court has upheld the University at Albany’s expulsion of a woman who along with two friends falsely claimed to be the victim of a racially motivated attack on a CDTA bus in January 2016.
The former student, Ariel Agudio, is now at home on Long Island, said her lawyer Mark Mishler, who had appealed the school’s decision.
Agudio, Asha Burwell and Alexis Briggs made national headlines when they said they were attacked on the bus, which was crowded with students heading back to campus around 1 a.m. on a Saturday morning. All three women are black.
The incident prompted demonstrations on campus and even a supportive Tweet from Hillary Clinton, who at the time was running for president. Their stories, however, ultimately fell apart.
UAlbany’s student conduct board later found the women had violated the school’s code of conduct. They pointed to numerous smartphone videos and interviews of other bus riders that showed the three women had helped start the late-night fracas.
The three were indicted by the office of Albany County District Attorney David Soares in May 2016. One, Alexis Briggs, agreed to a plea bargain. Burwell and Agudio were convicted in court last year of falsely reporting an incident. They were given probation, 200 hours of community service and a $1,000 fine.
In audio recording of the 911 call reporting the incident, Agudio could be heard saying "I beat up a boy" and "I had three bitches down" before an operator picked up the phone.
Mishler, though, contended that UAlbany didn’t provide them with all the evidence prior to the disciplinary hearing that could have helped Agudio's case.
"Sadly, the Appellate Division gave its stamp of approval to the profoundly unfair procedure followed by UAlbany in this case," he said in a statement. " ... Holding a hearing on charges based on recorded interviews and statements without letting the accused student have access to those items in advance is shocking, fundamentally wrong, and unfair. It shows that the University was not interested in fairness. Instead, they wanted to ensure that Ms. Agudio was punished and did not care whether that goal was accomplished fairly or unfairly."
The judges of the Appellate Division's Third Department, though, reasoned that the videos indicated the three women kept fighting even when they could have gotten off the bus.
“Even if petitioner was provoked by racial epithets and slurs as she claimed, the surveillance videos nonetheless show that petitioner and her friends were involved in a physical altercation and that, at the end, petitioner continued to fight when she could have safely exited the bus,” reads part of the decision.
The court concluded by finding that "the penalty of dismissal from SUNY Albany is not disproportionate to the offense."
Judges in their decision also noted that Agudio did not attend her university disciplinary hearing.
"It was clear to us, from much discussion and correspondence with the University prior to the hearing, that it was not going to be a fair process. So, a decision was made not to attend," Mishler said Thursday.
Mishler was unsure if Agudio would try and take her case to the state Court of Appeals.
UAlbany spokesman Jordan Carleo-Evangelist said "We strive to promote a culture of accountability through a student conduct process that is transparent, fair and impartial. We are grateful that the court recognized these efforts."
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