THIS STATEMENT IS RELEASED ON BEHALF OF ASHA BURWELL, BY HER ATTORNEYS
It appears that the University at Albany must now be called the University of Injustice. Three young African-American women have been charged criminally in the City of Albany Courts. And who is the arresting agency and the main proponent of the Criminal Charges? Their own University. The three women, who were all students in good standing, have been arrested at the urging and insistence of the Albany University Police and the University at Albany. At the same time, these proponents of the criminal charges are serving as the only complainants and witnesses in the University’s student conduct process against the very students that they have initiated charges against in the Criminal Justice system. The real crime now is that the University is serving as the charging party against its own students in the criminal courts, where they are swearing to allegations and determining that these young ladies are guilty and, at the same time, seeking to rush to judgment in the on-campus Student Conduct hearing, where they know that the young women cannot defend themselves. They know this because they have been told by the representatives for each of the young ladies. They know this because they are well aware that they have caused the fury of the criminal justice courts to engage these women. They know this because it is now their plan to further harm and punish these women without them being able to fight back against the levels of abuse and injustice to which they are being subjected.
In emails written to the University as far back as February 14, 2016, the University and its representatives have been informed that:
“We are fully aware that the Student's Bill of Rights guarantees a number [of] things which have been ignored and/or are being intentionally denied. The processing of any referral appears to have the intent of ‘suggesting that [Ms. Burwell] is at fault’ as the reporting and complaining party.’ Our client is to be ‘protected from retaliation by the institution, any student, the accused/respondent, and their friends…,’ yet she is now being forced to appear at a referral of charges against her. Needless to say, there are serious questions and issues which create a number of matters which demand conversation and evaluation before matters escalate. We welcome the opportunity to discuss all aspects of this very complicated and fact-intensive matter.” (Emphasis added)
Then, it was learned that the University, while bringing charges internally, was also processing charges against these students. In an email dated February 17, 2016 to the University, the University was told:
“Please advise if those documents which relate to the proposed charges/referrals that you mentioned have been sent along with your agreement with the University Police that you will not provide actual copies of video and audio evidence to Ms. Burwell or me as her representative. Further, this email will confirm that you advised me that there is an ongoing criminal investigation which may include Ms. Burwell as a possible subject. In light of your comments, we have advised you of our client’s Fifth Amendment Rights and her wish not [to] be subjected to any potential harm or jeopardy for exercising her Constitutional Rights. Accordingly, we have suggested that you consider our discussion and we will revisit this discussion on Friday.”
Then the young women were arrested and charged by the University and forced to surrender not to the Albany City Police, but to the University at Albany Police, who was and is serving a the initiator of the charges in the Courts and on campus. On March 1, 2016, after the University informed Ms. Burwell and the other two young women that they intended to prosecute them criminally, they then smugly informed these women that they would also prosecute them on campus on March 9, 2016, despite the fact that the criminal charges were pending with the University and its personnel serving as the complainants. In response, the University was told, in part that:
Please be informed that Ms. Burwell has and continues to oppose your charges and your process especially, as previously stated, since your employees (who are the same charging parties in your proceeding) are some of the same complainants in the Criminal charges. You and the University know that our client's rights and potential exposure, given the criminal charges, cannot give way to an administrative proceeding that is only being pressed to support your conclusions which you have already reached. There is no way that you can expect the defendant in a criminal case where you are the complainant to wave her Fifth Amendment Rights. I have informed you that you are the State and, since it is the State that is prosecuting our client, it would seem clear that if you really wanted to be fair, you would not attempt to compel the accused to a hearing knowing that her Constitutional Rights would necessarily be exercised. Further, your attempt to present evidence that is not the whole story and is not complete, as has already happened to the public, is both unethical and contrary to an institution of higher learning. You have made victims into culprits, without even attempting to have a discussion with them after you had questions. Instead, you have leveled criminal charges making each of these young women unable to testify in your hearing and making them unavailable to each other because of the pending venom filed criminal charges.
The utter disregard for the rights of these young women who have not been found guilty of anything, and the intent to do violence to them again through this process demonstrates this so-called place of higher learning has little integrity and less credibility in a real search for the truth. They have already, by bringing these charges, done three outrageous things. First, they have labeled these women “guilty.” Second, they have effectively barred these accused students of the ability to come to a hearing and defend the charges leveled by the very people accusing them and potentially trying to send them to jail. Third, they have assured that none of the women can testify for themselves or each other, without subjecting themselves to a waiver of their Constitutional Rights.
The University has been asked on more than three occasions to hold off on their proceedings and to let the criminal justice process run its course. They have outright refused and denied that they are the stated, “[t]he Student Conduct Hearing will proceed as scheduled for Wednesday, March 9, 2016 at 9:30 a.m. Regards, Nancy Lauricella” In addition, the level of intellectual dishonesty is shocking as Ms. Lauricella has stated, “The University at Albany is not the complainant in the criminal case. The criminal charges are being brought forward by the Albany County District Attorney's Office, on behalf of the People of the State of New York, and not the University. The Student Conduct Process at the University is a separate administrative process and, as such, the University will not delay the student conduct process to accommodate the criminal process.” Clearly, the request made by Ms. Burwell’s representative was not to “accommodate the criminal process,” but for these women to have the ability to defend themselves against these charges, given that the University created the underlying dilemma by rushing and bringing criminal charges and forcing these women to be placed in penal jeopardy.
There is no doubt that these women are going to address the criminal charges, but the actions of the University to create a Hobson’s Choice and act as though they are not attempting to punish these women without really affording a chance to defend themselves is shameful for an institution that wants to be seen as a place of deep thinking and intellectual honesty. By their actions, they call their own reputation and standing in the academic community into question. Something must be done to stop the use of this process at which only University employees will serve as witnesses. The notice of who will be witnesses against these ladies is that not a single person alleged to have been on the bus is going to be a witness in this “hearing.” In other words, every person coming to testify to seek to punish these women is a University employee and has no firsthand testimony to describe what these women experienced on the bus. Any person of good conscience and average intellect must object to the University using its internal process to manufacture and perform an academic lynching. Nothing could be more unfair and unjust than what the University of Injustice is now planning on doing.
This Statement is issued by Frederick K. Brewington, Esq. attorney for Ms. Asha Burwell and is joined by Mark Mishler, Esq. on behalf of his client, Ms. Ariel Agudio.