HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut prosecutors have added hate crime and other charges against a white woman who spat on a Black woman during protests at the state Capitol in January, Hartford State’s Attorney Sharmese Walcott announced Thursday.
Yuliya Gilshteyn, 44, of New Fairfield, was initially charged with breach of peace. The new charges include deprivation of rights under the state’s hate crime law, attempted assault, reckless endangerment and risk of injury to a child. She acknowledges what she did was wrong but denies it was a hate crime, her lawyer said.
The spitting occurred during large protests outside the state Capitol on Jan. 6, the same day as the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Video shows Gilshteyn, who opposes mandatory childhood vaccinations, spitting on Keren Prescott, who was among Black Lives Matter activists. Several groups rallied for various causes that day, the first of the new legislative session.
Walcott said the charges were upgraded after investigators reviewed video and talked to witnesses.
“The follow-up investigation ... confirmed that what occurred in Hartford on January 6, 2021 was much more than a breach of peace,” Walcott said in a statement. “An assault launched against a person on account of their race as they are exercising their First Amendment right and freedom cannot be tolerated.”
Gilshteyn’s lawyer, Ioannis Kaloidis, denied there was a hate crime.
“This was not racially motivated,” Kaloidis said in a phone interview Thursday. “This was an unfortunate incident. My client feels horrible. It was a reaction. It was a heated environment. It was wrong for her to do, but it was not based on race.”
Kaloidis declined to say why Gilshteyn spat on Prescott, saying the answer will likely be given during court proceedings.
Gilshteyn is free on a promise to appear in court. Her next court date is May 19.
Prescott, founder of the social justice group Power Up CT, told The Associated Press on Thursday evening that she felt some sense of justice in prosecutors filing the hate crime charge.
“If we don’t put a name to what this stuff is, how the hell are we going to fix it?” she asked. “How can we move to unity? How can we move to liberation? How can we move toward justice if we’re not even going to acknowledge these types of acts for what they are?”
Prescott said she and a friend were shouting “Black Lives Matter” and other slogans at the protests when Gilshteyn told her all lives matter and an argument ensued. Prescott said she also told Gilshteyn to back up because she wasn’t wearing a mask amid the coronavirus pandemic. Gilshteyn then spit at her face, hitting her glasses and mask, Prescott said.
“She walked past white people in order to get to me to spit on me, white people who were also yelling Black Lives Matter,’” Prescott said. “She didn’t go to them and spit in their face and say, ‘all lives matter.’ No. She came to Black woman and spat in my face, a Black woman who was yelling for racism to be declared a public health crisis, a Black woman who was out there yelling for Black lives to matter. That’s who she spat on.
Prescott said it left her shaken and upset, and she found it difficult and sad that she had to explain it to her three children.