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Man who wore KKK-style hood to California grocery store won't be charged

The man said he wore the mask was because of coronavirus restrictions and did not intend it to be a racial statement, officials said.

A man who wore a Ku Klux Klan-style pointed hood to a San Diego-area store this month will not be charged, the sheriff's office said Monday.

The man, who was not identified by authorities, wore the hood in a Vons grocery store in Santee, California, on May 2.

"The man expressed frustration with the coronavirus and having people tell him what he can and cannot do. 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,'" the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said in a statement.

Image: Hooded shopper
A hooded shopper in a Vons store in Santee, Calif., on May 3, 2020.Tiam Tellez

San Diego County health officials on May 1 required people to wear face coverings when in places where people come within 6 feet of others, such as grocery stores. The measures are aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus illness, COVID-19.

The sheriff's office said that it, the U.S. attorney's office and the San Diego County District Attorney's Office investigated and found insufficient evidence to charge the man.

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The sheriff's office cited the Supreme Court in saying even hateful speech is protected.

"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 sheriff's department said in the statement.

"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," it said.

As of Monday, more than 68,700 cases of COVID-19 had been identified in California, with more than 2,700 deaths, according to an NBC News count and the state health department.

The incident was not the only one involving racially charged masks in the city. On Thursday, the sheriff's department was called to a disturbance at a Food 4 Less grocery store and found a man wearing a mask with a swastika symbol on it.

The man removed the symbol when asked, the sheriff's department said.

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Mayor John Minto said in a video statement Sunday that he was saddened and angered by what he called the incidents of intolerance. "The Santee City Council, its citizens and I stand resolute in our indignation of such displays," Minto said.

Santee is a city of around 58,000 northeast of San Diego.