The San Diego Sheriff's Department announced Monday there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against a man who said he wore a Ku Klux Klan hood at a Santee supermarket out of "frustration" over having to wear a facial covering in public during the coronavirus pandemic.
Shoppers took multiple photos of the man, whose name has not been released, with and without his hood while he was inside the Vons located at 9643 Mission Gorge Rd. on May 2.
The incident drew outrage from local leaders and civil rights organizations that condemned the display of a key symbol of the 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 department said. "In summary he said, 'It was a mask, and it was stupid."
After interviewing witnesses, reviewing video evidence, and conferring with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the District Attorney's Office, 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 department 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 Santee.
Deputies responding to a reported disturbance at a Food 4 Less at 9430 Cuyamaca St. in Santee on Thursday and found a shopper wearing a mask featuring a 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."
NBC 7 San Diego tracked down the man behind the mask. He claimed the community misread the message.
"It was 100 percent intended to be a peaceful protest," he said. "The only Nazi thing was trying to say, is the governor is acting like one up on his podium gloating his power."
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.''