SANTEE, Calif. — An investigation was underway Monday into whether the appearance of a customer wearing a Ku Klux Klan-style hood at a supermarket in Santee amounted to a criminal act.
Photos posted on social media by resident Tiam Tellez, and later shared by a local leader of the Anti Defamation League, show the man inside the Vons store in the 9600 Mission Gorge Road in Santee Saturday, wearing the hood while he shops.
“So troublesome in so many ways this is still happening in Santee at Vons,” Tellez wrote on Facebook. “Disgusting!”
In a prepared statement, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department announced that it was investigating the episode, even though deputies were not called in while it was happening.
“Detectives … are looking into the matter and will pursue any appropriate criminal charges,” the regional law enforcement agency asserted. “The Sheriff’s Department does not condone hate or any acts of intolerance in our communities. We are a county that is welcoming of people from all backgrounds.”
Employees at the store repeatedly asked the unidentified man to remove the pointed white hood, and he finally did so while he was standing in a cashier’s line, according to Melissa Hill, a representative for Vons and Albertsons stores in Southern California.
“At Vons, fostering an environment of courtesy, dignity and respect is one of our highest priorities, and we work hard to hold everyone in our stores to these standards, including customers,” Hill said. “Unfortunately, an alarming and isolated incident occurred at our Vons store in Santee, where a customer chose an inflammatory method of wearing a face covering. Needless to say, it was shocking.
“Several members of our team asked the customer to remove it, and all requests were ignored until the customer was in the checkout area,” Hill said. “This was a disturbing incident for our associates and customers, and we are reviewing with our team how to best handle such inappropriate situations in the future.”
While Tammy Gillies, regional director of the San Diego ADL, was critical of the store’s response on Twitter, Tellez and other people who posted about the incident online thanked management for stepping in.
As the photo spread, local leaders spoke out against the man’s actions.
“I am stunned,” Santee Mayor John Minto told FOX 5. “Santee is not about that. We don’t condone that. It’s a sad reminder of how people can be intolerant.”
“I’m very happy the citizens brought it to the attention of VONS employees… Vons took action on it and stepped forward, they stopped it… we can move on from that.”
Minto said that Santee once had a bad reputation for racisim, but it has become a diverse and vibrant community.
“We can’t help what one person did that was in such poor taste,” Minto said.“Santee has a wonderful community. I certainly don’t tolerate this. The people who took the pictures, they’re part of Santee community and don’t tolerate this kind of behavior,” Minto said,
“The images I’ve seen are abhorrent,” County Supervisor Diane Jacobs said in a statement. “This blatant racism has no place in Santee or any part of San Diego County. It is not who we are. It is not what we stand for and can’t be tolerated.”
The man wore the hood to the store one day after the county’s face-covering requirement went into effect. The measure, aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus, requires residents to cover their nose and mouth when inside stores and other places where they will come within 6 feet of others.