There have been at least four cases of customers getting violent toward employees at stores in Gwinnett over requirements to wear face masks, according to Solicitor General Brian Whiteside’s office.
Whiteside has a warning for Gwinnettians: such behavior will result in criminal prosecution.
“Medical science has shown that mandatory mask policies protect both customers and employees from the spread of COVID-19 in indoor business establishments,” Whiteside’s office said in a statement. “The proper use of masks and social distancing saves lives and will help end the global pandemic.
“The Solicitor-General has become aware of incidents, both nationally and locally, where individuals have resisted mask policies at retail establishments. In some instances, retail employees have even been assaulted. This behavior will not be tolerated.”
Several store chains and restaurants have begun requiring customers wear face masks while shopping in an effort to limit the chances of people spreading the COVID-19 novel coronavirus disease.
That has led to reports nationwide of tense altercations between customers who did not want to wear a mask and employees who are trying to enforce store and restaurant policies.
And Gwinnett County has not been exempt from experiencing such incidents, according to Whiteside’s office.
The solicitor’s office said it is — so far — only aware of the four incidents it provided in a list to the Daily Post on Friday.
“The Solicitor-General of Gwinnett County stands with local businesses, such as retailers and retail employees who are following all guidelines and best practices to stop the spread of COVID-19, including mandatory mask policies for customers who enter retail establishments or other businesses,” Whiteside’s office said.
One such occasion was an incident was at the Sprout’s Farmers Market located at 2220 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Duluth on July 17. A grocery store employee told a customer that he needed to wear a face mask while he was in the store, and that initially sparked a verbal altercation, but it then escalated to something more physical.
“After a brief verbal altercation, the man allegedly threw a shopping basket at the employee, hitting her stomach,” Solicitor’s Office spokeswoman Arteen Afshar said. “The man fled prior to Duluth PD’s arrival.”
Three days alter, there was an altercation at the Walmart located at 3245 Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road in Suwanee. In that incident, a customer verbally abused a health ambassador standing at the front of the store after the employee told them they had to wear a mask to enter the store.
“The customer then allegedly proceeded to rip off the tape at the front of the store that sectioned off the entrance of the store,” Afshar said.
There were two other incidents Afshar noted, although the dates on which those incidents occurred was unknown.
One incident happened at the Walmart located at 4004 Lawrenceville Highway in Lilburn, where a customer became verbally abusive toward an employee stationed at the front of the store who told the customer they needed to wear a mask to enter the store.
The other incident occurred at the same Walmart in Suwanee where the July 20 incident happened. Afshar said a customer verbally abused an employee who them they needed to wear a mask and then “proceeded to allegedly flip off the store employee.”
Whiteside’s office said customers who refuse to comply with face mandates can face prosecution on a misdemeanor criminal trespass charge. If the altercation with employees trying to enforce the face mask requirement turns violent, the customer can face additional charges as well.
Conviction on a misdemeanor charge can result in a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 12 months in jail or on probation, the solicitor’s office said.
“The Solicitor General’s office supports the right of local Gwinnett County business establishments to require masks and compliance with other guidelines as a condition of entry onto the business premises,” officials at the office said.