Florida Man Jailed for Punching Fellow Customer In Mask Dispute: 'DeSantis Said We Don't Have To'

A 24-year-old Florida man named Neshad Potts allegedly punched a 28-year-old man named Eli Paez over a face mask dispute. Before allegedly punching Paez, Potts reportedly announced that Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis "said we don't have to wear masks."

The alleged incident occurred last Sunday while Paez was waiting for ice cream at a Dairy Queen fast food restaurant in Key West. Potts reportedly became angry after a take-out window employee asked him to wear a mask, FL Keys News reported.

"He freaked out and said, 'DeSantis said we don't have to wear masks,' " Paez told the news outlet. "I said, 'Sir, it's a privately owned business. If you want ice cream, just put a mask on.'"

Florida face mask fight punch Ron DeSantis
A Florida man named Neshad Potts allegedly punched a man named Eli Paez over a face mask dispute. Potts reportedly said that Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis "said we don’t have to wear masks," shortly before the alleged attack. In this photo, DeSantis speaks holding his facemask during a press conference to address the rise of coronavirus cases in the state, at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, on July 13, 2020. Chandan Khanna / AFP/Getty

Paez said that Potts then farted on him before smacking the hat off of his head. Paez, a transgender man, told Potts that he wasn't afraid of him. In response, Potts allegedly called Paez an anti-lesbian slur.

Paez said that before he knew it, Potts punched him in the mouth. Paez said he fell back and hit his head. The attack reportedly left him with a hole in his lip, a head injury and short-term memory loss. The Lower Keys Medical Center treated him for his injuries.

Potts told police that he was defending himself after Paez followed and harassed him. Police charged Potts with a felony charge of battery and booked him into the Stock Island county jail on a $30,000 bond.

On May 3, DeSantis signed new orders suspending all remaining local government COVID-19 mandates and restrictions, including face mask requirements. The orders state that all such local restrictions that differ from statewide orders will be permanently invalidated by July 1.

Private businesses, such as theme parks and hospitals, are still able to impose their restrictions. Key West stopped enforcing its face mask mandate in early March after DeSantis suspended all fines for anyone who violated COVID-19 emergency orders, The Miami Herald reported.

"Nothing in the Governor's Order prevents a restaurant or other business from requiring employees and patrons to wear masks while on the premises," Monroe County spokesperson Kirsten Livengood told the Herald. Key West is in Monroe County.

Monroe County Commissioner Eddie Martinez told the publication, "Personal freedom is also important. Every business does continue to have the right to say, 'no shoes, no shirt, no mask, no service.'"

As of Tuesday, Monroe County ranks 40th among Florida's 67 counties for having the highest overall number of COVID-19 cases. The county has reported 6,998 cases and 49 related deaths.

Florida ranks third amongst states with the highest overall number of cases. The state has reported over 2.28 million cases and 35,830 related deaths.

Newsweek contacted DeSantis' office for comment.