A Connecticut court wrapped up testimony Wednesday on a pretrial hearing in the civil case of a Black woman suing a white woman who spit on her during a protest in Hartford on Jan. 6, 2021.
Attorney Ken Krayeske sought during the morning virtual hearing to establish that Yuliya Gilshteyn had racist intent when she spat on his client, Keren Prescott, during a crowded protest outside the state Capitol building. The incident was captured on video.
Gilshteyn received accelerated rehab, a prison diversionary program, in a criminal case related to the incident last year. Wednesday’s hearing comes as Judge Matthew Budzik considers whether to allow Krayeske to tie Gilshteyn’s assets to the case for the purposes of paying civil damages.
Much of the 25-minute hearing involved Gilshteyn’s lawyer, Kevin Smith, quizzing Prescott on whether she could have avoided using a bullhorn to address his client as Prescott chanted “Black lives matter” and other slogans during the demonstration.
In response, Prescott said she had struggled to be heard above the noisy and chaotic protest in Hartford.
“I was there interacting with the elected officials who could not hear me over the loud noise,” Prescott said. “Ms. Gilshteyn was trying to intimidate me. It wasn’t about me interacting with her. I was trying to stay focused on why I was there.”
Prescott said she had asked Gilshteyn, who was unmasked, to back up.
“Was there anything that prevented you from not using the bullhorn?” Smith asked.
Prescott said the noise level necessitated the bullhorn.
“There were hundreds of people yelling. So I wanted to be sure that she could hear me when I asked her repeatedly to please back up because she didn’t have on a mask because of the pandemic,” Prescott said.
“I did not feel comfortable or safe with her advancing toward,” she said. “I assumed she did not hear me because she kept advancing towards me.”
In prior hearings on the case, Gilshteyn told the court she had been at the event to protest the legislature’s efforts to sunset the state’s religious exemption to childhood vaccine requirements. She said the spitting incident was due to stress and did not reflect her personal beliefs.
“I was under a lot of stress, I was being surrounded. I felt like a hunted animal,” Gilshteyn said in June. “I was fearing for my safety and that of my child.”
On Wednesday, Prescott also described a tense situation at the demonstration, which culminated with police officers leading her away from the confrontation.
“I remember being surrounded by a large group of white people. I remember being surrounded by Ms. Gilshteyn’s friends, pushing me and shoving me and shoving my bullhorn in my face,” Prescott said. “I remember some white women demanding that the police listen to me because they were ignoring me.”
Later in the hearing, Krayeske unsuccessfully attempted to call another witness, who he said would speak to a racist encounter involving Gilshteyn during an unrelated incident at a homeschool co-op.
“Character is at issue,” Krayeske said. “This is a racist intent crime or civil cause of action. How else am I going to prove intent?”
Budzik did not buy the argument.
“This strikes me as propensity evidence that is not probative in the sense that these are completely different factual scenarios,” the judge said. “What individuals may do when caring for their children … strikes me as very different than how individuals may react during a political protest in which I think everyone would agree that tempers are a little bit elevated.”
Budzik gave both attorneys 30 days to file an additional brief on the case before he makes a ruling.