“Back up,” Prescott recalled saying to Gilshteyn several times on Jan. 6. “You don’t have a mask on.”
Then, Gilshteyn, who was carrying a small child at the time, turned to her left and spit in Prescott’s face, hitting her glasses and mask, and retreated from the scene, according to a video of the incident. Gilshteyn, 45, of New Fairfield, Conn., faces multiple charges from the encounter — including felony hate crime of intimidation due to bias. The spitting incident was denounced by the Hartford state’s attorney as “the most foul thing I have ever seen.”
But the hate-crime charge may not hold up after a judge granted Gilshteyn special probation this week. The Wednesday ruling from Hartford Superior Court calls for Gilshteyn to enter accelerated rehabilitation, a pretrial diversionary program for first-time offenders in Connecticut. She was also ordered to complete 100 hours of anti-hate curriculum in the next two years.
Hartford Superior Court Judge Sheila M. Prats ruled that the hate crime and all of Gilshteyn’s charges would be dismissed if she completes the special probation program.
Prescott, who turned 40 the day of the ruling, was left in tears over a decision she described to The Washington Post as “the epitome of White privilege.” Prescott and her attorney, Ken Krayeske, argued that a judge would not have accepted accelerated rehabilitation — given to offenders who the court believes “will probably not commit more crimes in the future” — if a Black woman had spit on a White woman.
“When she attacked me and the police didn’t believe me, that was White privilege. When the police held me back and she was led away, that was White privilege,” Prescott said outside the courtroom, according to the Hartford Courant. “The fact she was in here today and didn’t even get a slap on the wrist, that is White privilege.”
Prescott added, “What is she going to learn walking away from this unscathed?”
Ioannis Kaloidis, Gilshteyn’s attorney, told The Post that while his client’s actions were “inappropriate” and “shocking,” the attack was motivated not by racism or hate but from stress regarding mask mandates and the coronavirus vaccine. Gilshteyn apologized to Prescott this week and said that spitting in the Black woman’s face was “completely out of character.”
“We don’t dispute that she shouldn’t have spit on her, but we dispute what caused it,” Kaloidis said. “To say my client is the epitome of White privilege is garbage.”
The ruling comes at a time when the state is exploring whether racism is a public health crisis for its residents. State lawmakers passed a bill last month declaring racism a public health crisis in Connecticut, and more than 20 municipalities have passed similar resolutions.
Hundreds of protesters in Hartford surrounded the state Capitol for competing, tense protests Jan. 6, the same day as the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Prescott, founder of Power Up Manchester, a nonprofit that aims to “amplify voices within marginalized communities,” told The Post that she and a friend were chanting “Black Lives Matter” throughout the day when they were allegedly accosted by Gilshteyn and anti-vaccine protesters.
“Once they started to recognize what we were saying, they started saying, ‘All lives matter,’ ” Prescott said. “As we kept chanting, this woman turns to us and says, ‘Black lives don’t matter! Look at black-on-black crime.’ ”
Black-on-black crime, a phrase that has long been debunked, has been a talking point repeated by some conservatives against activists calling for police reform — the most notable example being former president Donald Trump. Kaloidis said Gilshteyn did not utter any comments considered to be “racially motivated.”
After she informed Gilshteyn of the fallacy of black-on-black crime, Prescott said she kept chanting into her megaphone, hoping to be heard by the lawmakers being sworn in that day. The next thing she knew, Prescott felt someone’s saliva on her face.
“She brought that spit back from 1865,” said Prescott, referring to the year the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States.
Days after the Jan. 6 incident, the activist said that her physician told her she had come down with shingles, in part, because of the overwhelming stress from the encounter. Prescott, who said she is a sexual assault survivor, noted that being spit on felt comparable to the trauma she had previously experienced.
“That same cowardice of being sexually assaulted, that was the same feeling I felt when she spit on me,” she told The Post.
Gilshteyn was arrested by Capitol police and initially charged with breach of peace, but the charges were upgraded by Hartford State’s Attorney Sharmese Walcott after prosecutors saw video of the incident captured by WTNH. Among the other charges Gilshteyn faces are third-degree attempt to commit assault, first-degree reckless endangerment and risk of injury to a child.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Prats, the judge, acknowledged the severity of the case, but stated to the court that the “despicable” incident itself was not enough to disqualify Gilshteyn from participating in the accelerated rehabilitation program. The judge said her ruling was not meant to be any kind of political message.
“It is serious. It is serious to you, it’s serious to this moment we’re in,” Prats said. “I don’t believe [Gilshteyn] 100 percent, because if all life mattered, she wouldn’t do that to you.”
Demonstrators protested Prats’s decision, chanting “Justice for Keren” and “Protect Black women.” The ruling also did not sit well with Walcott.
“I just cannot as I sit here right now [and] say this defendant has shown over the past six months that she is committed to reeducating herself,” Walcott said, according to the Courant.
Representatives with Hartford Superior Court did not immediately return a request for comment.
In court documents obtained by The Post, Kaloidis argued that Gilshteyn, who is Jewish and grew up in Soviet Russia, was “an excellent candidate” for special probation because she did not have a previous record. The defense attorney lauded the judge’s ruling this week.
“She made a very bad split-second, emotional response to the situation,” Kaloidis said. “She’s not walking away smelling like roses here. This has had an impact on her and being taken very seriously.”
Speaking to The Post on Thursday, Prescott said the hope she had for getting justice had shattered on her birthday, leaving her angry and disappointed. She fears that the judge’s ruling in her case, one caught on video, will make it easier for those accused of similar hate crimes to not be charged.
“I felt like the judge spit in my face, like the court system spit in my face,” she said. “I don’t know if there is a word to describe this right now. I’m stuck with this pain and am now just forced to live with it.”