SAN ANTONIO (CN) — A San Antonio-area sheriff Wednesday announced a felony assault charge against a man angry about required face masks during the Covid-19 pandemic who was caught on video slapping the hand of the county judge who ordered it.
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said the man was checking out with a cashier at a Lowe’s hardware store on Callaghan Road in northwest San Antonio hours earlier. The man allegedly became angry and verbally abusive when the cashier told him to wear a face mask.
In a 22-second-long security camera video, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff is standing next to the man waiting for another cashier and attempted to hand him a white card. The man quickly slaps Wolff’s hand and the video ends with Wolff bending down to pick up the card from the ground. The two Lowe’s employees in the video, Wolff and a third customer in line are all shown wearing masks.
County judges in Texas are elected chief executives of the county — they have no judicial duties.
Salazar said Wolff, a Democrat, was trying to intervene in the argument between the man and the cashier, urging the man to call Wolff to discuss the county’s face mask order. The man is facing one count of assault on a public servant, a felony.
Wolff was the first local official in Texas to order businesses to require face masks in areas where 6-foot social distancing is not possible, or face a $1,000 fine. Enacted on June 17, the order has been copied by other jurisdictions in the state that have struggled to find a way around Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s refusal to order people to wear face masks in public.
The sheriff said that after the slap, Wolff called him and left the speakerphone on so he could hear the man yelling at the judge.
“I could hear the suspect berating the judge,” Salazar said. “He knew exactly who he was; he knew exactly who he was dealing with, and he knew that he was in violation of the judge’s order.”
Wolff followed the man out of the store and took down his license plate as he drove off. Salazar declined to identify the man, but confirmed his deputies know his identity and are trying to find him. He urged customers and employees not to put themselves at risk of violent confrontations if others choose to ignore the mask order.
“This could have been an assault on one of the cashiers or another customer,” Salazar said. “Look, we don’t like wearing masks. Not even I like wearing them, but it is what we have to do.”
Wolff said he thought speaking with the man could “solve something” and calm the situation.
“That didn’t work out so good,” he told CBS-affiliate KENS. “People have a lot of anger in them and that certainly happened today.”
Wolff urged residents to “do what we can to protect other people” and “try to be understanding that the purpose of the mask is to save other people.”
Lowe’s did not immediately respond to an email message requesting comment Wednesday evening.
The governors of several Southern states have faced criticism for reopening their states too soon after stay-at-home orders were issued in March to mitigate the spread of the disease. Abbott acknowledged Wednesday that the state may have to “ratchet back” reopenings if cases continue to spike. Texas has recorded 125,921 cases and 2,249 deaths so far, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The alarming increase in confirmed cases in the Southern states resulted in the governors of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey agreeing Wednesday to subject travelers from those states to a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival. The states affected are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, Utah and Texas, so far.