A relative of the Amherst man charged with harassing a Jewish acquaintance said it was a case of a falling out over a love interest and not a hate crime.
Dean Bruscia said his half-brother, Christian McCaffrey, and the purported victim knew each other well from school and were good friends until the victim started dating McCaffrey's ex-girlfriend.
"This was never a hate crime," Bruscia said Monday morning outside Amherst Town Court. "It was over a girl."
McCaffrey, 18, is charged with aggravated harassment as a hate crime and is accused of barraging the victim with menacing electronic messages and phone calls over several months, according to prosecutors.
If anything, Bruscia said following his half-brother's court appearance, McCaffrey should be charged with a lesser form of harassment. He lashed out at the Erie County District Attorney's Office and news outlets for publicizing the hate crime charge.
"It was blown out of proportion," Bruscia said.
The District Attorney's Office said it cannot comment on a motive in the case nor detail exactly what McCaffrey is accused of saying to the victim while the case is pending. But District Attorney John J. Flynn has said the investigation into the case shows there is no threat to the wider Jewish community.
The victim's father, Dr. Bennett Myers, said he has faith in how Amherst police and prosecutors have handled the case so far.
"We have every confidence in them and the judicial system to establish the facts and the motivations," Bennett Myers said Monday. He declined to comment on Bruscia's contention that the dispute centered on a mutual romantic interest.
Bennett Myers, whose wife, Penny, is cantor at Temple Beth Zion, told The Buffalo News last week that his family remains fearful following a late December arson at their home.
No one has been charged, but prosecutors said the "suspicious fire" is under investigation to see if it has any connection to the McCaffrey case.
"They're just trying to slander his name," said Bruscia, who contends McCaffrey "had nothing to do with" the fire.
Bruscia said there's no reason his half-brother would attack someone based on his Jewish heritage because McCaffrey's mother is Jewish.
Bruscia spoke with a reporter following his half-brother's appearance Monday morning in Town Court. When a reporter approached the group to seek a comment from McCaffrey, Bruscia reminded McCaffrey his attorney had warned him not to talk to the media and told him to walk to their car.
"These are two good friends who let their emotions get the best of them," Bruscia said of McCaffrey and the victim. "The truth will come out."
Penny Myers attended Monday's court session sporting a head covering traditionally worn by Jews as a sign of respect for God.
"Looking at Christian in the eyes while he sat in court – I wanted him to see my face proudly wearing my kippah so he could see the mother of the person he has harassed since August," she said in a text message.
Mark Sacha, a former Erie County assistant district attorney, is McCaffrey's court-appointed attorney who recently took him on as a client.
"I don't know anything about the case, but I know enough to say this kid, he has no hatred towards any group of people or religion," Sacha said in an interview. "And I just know that he's had a tough upbringing."
McCaffrey remains free without bail because a new state law does not allow Amherst Town Justice Kara Buscaglia to set bail for someone facing this hate crime charge. He must reappear in court Feb. 26.