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San Diego sheriff’s officials find insufficient evidence to charge man who wore KKK hood to grocery store

A man was spotted wearing a hood in a Vons grocery store in Santee, Calif., on May 2.
(Tiam Tellez)

An investigation into the actions of a man who wore a Ku Klux Klan hood to a grocery store in the San Diego County community of Santee did not turn up enough evidence to pursue charges against him, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said Monday.

The incident at the Vons on Mission Gorge Road on May 2 was documented by other shoppers who took photos that went viral and put a national spotlight on Santee. Local elected leaders, the head of the Anti-Defamation League in San Diego and others condemned the man’s actions.

A corporate spokeswoman for Vons said the man was asked repeatedly to take off the hood or leave the store. A supervisor found him in a check-out line and repeated the request. The man took off the hood, purchased his items and left.

As part of the investigation into the matter, detectives questioned the man, who expressed frustration over the COVID-19 pandemic and people telling him “what he can and can’t do,” the department said in a statement.

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The man, who in photos appeared to be white and middle-aged, told investigators the hood was not intended to be a racial statement.

“It was a mask and it was stupid,” he told investigators, according to the department’s statement.

A man was spotted wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood in a Vons in Santee, igniting outrage from the mayor, the head of the Anti-Defamation League in San Diego and others.

After questioning the man, investigators conferred with the U.S. attorney’s office and the San Diego County district attorney’s office. They also interviewed witnesses, viewed video evidence and reviewed “all relevant criminal statues,” the department said.

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“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.

“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 department continued. “Santee is a city of families and the community is rightfully disgusted at this man’s despicable behavior. The Sheriff’s Department thoroughly investigates incidents such as these and will hold those who violate the law accountable.”

Francine Maxwell, president of the NAACP in San Diego, called for an investigation a day after the incident and said it was important for law enforcement officials to denounce the incident. The organization said in an email Monday evening that it was considering if and how to respond to the news.

The incident occurred a day after San Diego County implemented a mandate that called for facial coverings in public, including in grocery stores. Five days after the incident, on Thursday, another man wore a face covering with a Swastika symbol on it to another grocery store in Santee, a Food 4 Less on Cuyamaca Street.

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A spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department said Monday that investigators were still looking into “all aspects” of that incident.

Hernandez writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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