Two New York college students were expelled and a third was suspended for two years after they allegedly lied about a supposed racially motivated incident aboard an Albany bus, the university's president said Thursday.
The expulsions and suspension comes one day after State University of New York at Albany students Ariel Agudio, Asha Burwell and Alexis Briggs, all 20 years old, pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of assault and falsely reporting an incident.
Agudio and Burwell were dismissed from the university, and Briggs was suspended for two years for violating the student code of conduct, University President Robert J. Jones said in a message to the campus community Thursday.
The women, who are African American, claimed they were harassed and assaulted by 10 to 12 white men and women on a city bus just after 1 a.m. on Jan. 30 and that racial slurs were used by the perpetrators.
The account triggered protests on the university campus. But university police said in February that the students were the aggressors and assaulted a 19-year-old and then falsely reported the incident to police. They were indicted on Monday.
University police said in February investigators found no evidence to support the claims they were targeted because of their race, or that slurs were used against them.
A phone number for Briggs could not immediately be found. Phone numbers listed for Burwell and Agudio could not accept messages Thursday evening.
An attorney for Burwell has criticized the school, saying all three students were in good standing and the university and university police insisted charges be brought.
"The real crime now is that the university is serving as the charging party against its own students in the criminal courts," attorney Frederick Brewington has said.
Community organizer, activist and university graduate student Rosa Clemente told NBC affiliate WNYT that she thinks the criminal case is an overreach.
"I think it's now becoming more of a political persecution," Clemente told the station on Wednesday, the same day the women entered not guilty pleas.
Jones, the university president, said Thursday that the incident was used by many students "as an opportunity to engage with the critical issues around race in our society."
"I encourage all of us to continue to remain united as we work together to nurture an inclusive and respectful campus community," Jones said.