SANTEE, CA — No charges were filed against a man who wore a Ku Klux Klan hood while grocery shopping in Santee, sheriff’s officials announced Monday.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department launched an investigation after the man was spotted wearing the makeshift hood May 2 at the Vons store on Mission Gorge Road. Other shoppers snapped photos of the man and posted them online, sparking outrage from local officials, residents and others on social media.
Although deputies weren’t called to the store at the time, the department opened an investigation. Authorities questioned the man, interviewed witnesses and reviewed video evidence.
“The man expressed frustration with the coronavirus and having people tell him what he can and cannot do,” the department said in a statement. “He said that wearing the hood was not intended to be a racial statement. In summary, he said, ‘It was a mask, and it was stupid.'”
Authorities conferred with both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. Deputies also analyzed all relevant criminal statutes, according to the department.
“As a result, it was determined there was insufficient evidence to charge the man who wore the Ku Klux Klan hood inside the store,” the department said.
The U.S. Supreme Court has said that “speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express the thought that we hate,” the department said.
Still, sheriff’s officials said the incident “should serve as a reminder for anyone contemplating wearing or displaying items so closely associated with hate and human suffering that our society does not hold in high regard those who do so.”
“Santee is a city of families and the community is rightfully disgusted at this man’s despicable behavior,” the department said. “The Sheriff’s Department thoroughly investigates incidents such as these and will hold those who violate the law accountable.”
Workers at the Vons had the man remove the hood but did not make him leave the store, a company spokeswoman confirmed.
After the pictures circulated online, Santee Mayor John Minto said the man’s actions did not represent the values of the city.
“Many thanks to all who stepped forward to curtail this sad reminder of intolerance,” Minto said in a statement. “Santee, its leaders and I will not tolerate such behavior. Santee and its citizens are great, and this particular individual’s actions are not representative of us as a people and a wonderful city.”
San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who represents Santee and other East County communities, also condemned the man’s actions.
“The images I’ve seen are abhorrent,” Jacob said in a statement. “This blatant racism has no place in Santee or any part of San Diego County. It is not who we are. It is not what we stand for and can’t be tolerated.”
Just days after the incident, another shopper was spotted wearing a mask with a swastika at the Food 4 Less store on Cuyamaca Street in Santee.
Both incidents prompted the mayor to announce that he would recommend expanding the city’s Community Oriented Policing Committee in an effort to tackle intolerance in Santee. His recommendation is expected at the next council meeting Wednesday.
“There is no room in our society for racial prejudice, and these incidents are not indicative of the people of Santee,” he said. “Citizens and visitors to Santee deserve to feel safe.”
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