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Sheriff: No grounds to charge shopper who wore KKK-style hood at supermarket

The man, whose name has not been publicly released, concealed his head with the pointed white hood during a May 2 visit to a Vons store.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Authorities announced Monday that they have no grounds on which to seek criminal charges against a grocery shopper who said he donned a Ku Klux Klan-style hood at a Santee supermarket out of "frustration" over having to wear a facial covering in public during the coronavirus crisis.

The man, whose name has not been publicly released, concealed his head with the pointed white hood during a May 2 visit to a Vons store in the 9600 block of Mission Gorge Road.

Other patrons took photos of the masked man and posted them online, drawing outrage from local leaders and civil rights organizations that condemned the display of a key symbol of a racist hate group.

When questioned by detectives, the man "expressed frustration with having people tell him what he can and cannot do" during the pandemic, according to a statement from the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

"He said that wearing the hood was not intended to be a racial statement," the agency's statement says. "In summary, he said, `It was a mask, and it was stupid."'

After interviewing witnesses and reviewing video evidence, investigators determined that there was insufficient evidence to charge the man with any crime, according to the department.

"That said, this 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," the agency stated. "Santee is a city of families, and the community is rightfully disgusted at this man's despicable behavior."

Less than a week after the episode, a similar incident took place at another grocery outlet in the same eastern San Diego County city.

Deputies responding to a reported disturbance at a Food 4 Less in the 9400 block of Cuyamaca Street in Santee on Thursday evening arrived to find a shopper wearing a mask decorated with a rectangular swastika sign.

"When deputies asked for the symbol to be removed, the man complied," according to a sheriff's statement. "Sheriff's investigators will continue to look into the matter. The Sheriff's Department does not condone hate or acts of intolerance. We are a county that is welcoming of people from all backgrounds."

The man's name was not released.

The episode prompted expressions of shock and dismay online, including one from county Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who represents Santee and other East County neighborhoods.

"Sad, vile acts like this must not be tolerated here or anywhere else," she tweeted Friday afternoon. "It's deeply offensive to the community and our entire region." 

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