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Madison Police chief denies claim teen pressured to recant hate crime report

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MADISON (WKOW) - Madison's Police chief denies a claim made by a protest leader that detectives asked a teenager who maintained she was the victim of a disturbing, hate crime to recant her story.

Authorities say, Althea Bernstein, 18, of Monona, reported she was driving near State Street on a June night of protest when four white men called her a racial slur, tossed a flammable liquid on her, and then threw a lighter or match on her to ignite it. The teenager said she was able to put out flames but was burned. Shortly after the incident, Bernstein did an interview on ABC's Good Morning America and related the same story.

A protest leader told a group of one hundred people in downtown Madison Tuesday that she was not only outraged over the Kenosha Police shooting of Jacob Blake, but also of the treatment of Bernstein.

"Madison Police asked her to revise her statement...and admit she lied," the protest leader maintained, refusing to reveal her name to 27 News. "And these white men set her on fire. She still doesn't have justice. She's still afraid," the protest leader said.

"That's inaccurate," Interim Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl told 27 News of the claimed request of the teenager to recant. "I can tell you we've spent hundreds of hours investigating that case. It remains an open investigation."

The protest leader tells 27 News she does not speak for Bernstein or her family. Bernstein's spokesperson, attorney Andrea Sumpter has yet to respond to a request for comment from 27 News.

27 News representatives have made several requests of Madison Police for any video they may possess of the intersection of State and West Gorham streets, or nearby streets, at the time on June 24 Bernstein says the incident took place. But each request has been denied by police custodians, citing the ongoing investigation.

On the same evening of the incident involving the teen, authorities say protesters toppled statues, attacked a state lawmaker, and Madison's City-County Building was firebombed.

There is a $10,000 reward for information leading to arrests and convictions in connection to the burning of Bernstein.

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Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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