San Diego Man Who Wore KKK Hood As Protective Mask Escapes Prosecution As It Was 'Not Intended to Be a Racial Statement'

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department has said there are no grounds to charge a man who wore a Ku Klux Klan hood while out shopping at a supermarket.

Images of the man wearing a white hood at a Vons store in Santee earlier this month caused outrage on social media.

The man, who has not been identified, wore the KKK hood one day after San Diego imposed a new health order on May 1 requiring everyone to cover their faces when entering a place of business to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department said officers interrogated the man, who described his frustration with the coronavirus and "having people tell him what he can and cannot do."

The suspect also told police wearing the hood used by the hate group was "not intended to be a racial statement."

"In summary he said, 'It was a mask and it was stupid,'" the department said in a statement.

Detectives met with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the San Diego County District Attorney's Office to discuss the incident, before ruling there was insufficient evidence to charge the man.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has said that '[s]peech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express the thought that we hate,'" the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said.

"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.

"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."

Tammy Gillies, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of San Diego, was one of those who condemned the incident at the Vons store.

"It's shocking yet not surprising that even during these challenging times, we see people emboldened to express hate. History teaches us that during times of crisis people are looking for a scapegoat," she told KUSA.

Several days after the KKK hood incident, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department was called to a Food 4 Less grocery store following reports of a man wearing a mask with a swastika symbol on it.

Police said the man took the mask off when asked to do so by officers at the scene on May 7.

Santee Mayor John Minto spoke out about the latest "incident of intolerance" in the city.

"The Santee City Council, its citizens, and I stand resolute in our indignation of such display. There is no room in our society for racial prejudice, and these incidents are not indicative of the people of Santee," Pinto said in a statement.

"Citizens and visitors to Santee deserve to feel safe. Therefore, I will recommend at the next city council meeting the Community Oriented Policing Committee be expanded and take on the issue of intolerance in the City of Santee."

Santee has a history of white supremacist activity and racist attacks in the city, earning it the nickname "Klantee."

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(file photo) Ceremony of the Ku Klux Klan, a secret militant organization that advocates white supremacy through acts of violence and terrorism. The San Diego County Sheriff's Department had said there is no grounds to charge a man who was seen wearing a KKK hood at a supermarket. Ira Wyman/Sygma/Getty