Prison Officer Arrested on Battery, Hate Crime Charges After Mask Altercation Outside Bank

A corrections officer in California was arrested this week after allegedly assaulting a bank employee outside a Wells Fargo in Grover Beach earlier this month, police said Tuesday.

The officer, identified by the Grover Beach Police Department as James Allen Jones Jr., was arrested Tuesday morning and faces hate crime, battery and criminal threats charges in connection with the incident.

Jones was working as a corrections officer with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation at the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo prior to the incident, which Grover Beach police said in a Tuesday press release occurred the evening of September 3. Jones was taken to the San Luis Obispo County Jail following his arrest, police said.

The person with whom Jones allegedly had the altercation told police the incident began after Jones became frustrated that the Wells Fargo location in Grover Beach was enforcing a mask requirement amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The bank employee was injured during the fight but did not accept an offer for medical treatment after authorities arrived, Grover Beach police said.

Face mask fight prison officer
An employee at the California Men's Colony was arrested after allegedly fighting over a mask requirement with another individual outside a bank in Grover Beach, California. Above, a cardboard box filled with packaged blue surgical masks imported from China is photograhed during an outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus in San Ramon, California on April 5, 2020. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

One day later, police said they were speaking with the bank employee to learn more about the fight and were told Jones allegedly "was making derogatory statements about the victim's ethnicity during the altercation." The incident report was updated to reflect the hate crime allegations, police said, and authorities spent the next several days working to identify the other person involved, who had left the area before police could take anyone into custody.

Jones was later identified as the other person allegedly involved in the incident through witness interviews, as well as through photos and videos gathered from the surrounding areas at the time of the fight. Once Jones was identified, authorities collaborated with the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's office to get an arrest warrant and search warrants for Jones' property.

Vicky Waters, the special advisor and assistant secretary of communications at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, told Newsweek the officer involved in the incident was placed on administrative time off in a statement that did not mention Jones by name.

"The details of this incident are deplorable and CDCR does not tolerate this type of behavior on or off duty," Waters said. "This does not represent our department, nor the standards and expectations we have of our staff. The officer has been placed on Administrative Time Off, and we will continue to cooperate with the Grover Beach Police Department in their investigation."

Grover Beach police also described the hate crime allegations made about Jones as "not acceptable." The department said police have responded to three alleged hate crimes over the last five years, two of which resulted in arrests.

"The City of Grover Beach is committed to fostering a collaborative, safe and culturally diverse environment for its residents, workers, business owners and tourists," the department said. "We will continue to advance values of human rights, peace, respect and inclusivity in our community."