Opinion: Man arrested at NJ Wawa after not wearing a mask? Are you next?
As much as I’ve read about anti-maskers and the people who refuse to mask up, I never really thought it would come to this.
One of our listeners, Beth Scurria, tells me her husband was actually arrested at the Wawa in Winslow Township after being stopped for not wearing a mask.
I didn’t think you could be arrested for something that wasn’t a law but merely an executive order (an order by Gov. Phil Murphy requires masking in stores, and in public places where social distancing isn't possible), but here we are. She emailed us with this horror story about her husband, Tim.
Our news department tried to find out what's up with this as well. Winslow Chief of police George Smith responded to an email from our deputy digital editor, Sergio Bichao, asking about an incident involving a man arrested for not wearing a mask. Smith is out on vacation this week, but he wrote back the following:
"There was an arrest with several charges. It is an active investigation. That’s the most I can give right now."
That's not much, and Sergio has put in a records request seeking more. Under New Jersey law, police are required to release the names and charges against people accused of committing crimes, as well as certain details about incidents — but they're also allowed to hold back certain information if it might compromise an investigation. We'll see what comes back from that formal request.
So all we know so far is Beth's account while we try to get further corroboration or explanation. I'm not a news reporter, but here's how she described it to me (with my own paraphrasing):
It happened Tuesday, Sept. 1, Beth says. Tim walked into Wawa and had his coffee. A police officer walked in and asked where his mask was. He replied he had an underlying health condition and didn't have a mask. The officer told him to put a mask on or he was going to send him a ticket in the mail. Then, the officer asked to see his ID. He replied, “what crime do you suspect me of committing?”
Are we required to give up our ID to any police officer who asks without knowing why? More from Beth's version of events:
Then, purposefully or inadvertently, nobody is sure which, the officer knocked the coffee out of Tim's hand, spilling it all over the counter near the register, and slammed cuffs on him. The officer claimed the non-masked “suspect” was “obstructing justice.” He was then charged with obstructing justice, a charge relating to not wearing a mask, and impersonating a police officer.
Don’t understand that part? Oh, let me explain. Again, based on Beth's account:
The officer proceeded to pull Tim's wallet out of his back pocket (Is that actually allowed?). Tim, a tree surgeon by trade, maintains credentials to work at a port as an escort for Homeland Security. He therefore is, technically, an enrolled agent. He takes a lot of pride in his work at this port. Upon finding these credentials in Tim's wallet and being unfamiliar with them, the officer charged him with “impersonating a police officer.”
He then confiscated an old embroidered State Police patch Tim keeps in his wallet (Is it illegal to carry one of those?).
It appeared that the officer was grasping at straws to pile on charges (And they say ANTI-maskers have anger problems!).
Realizing that he had no choice, Tim finally relented and said “OK let’s go,” and did not resist.
Nevertheless, the police officer roughly slapped cuffs on the “suspect’s” wrists In an unnecessarily harsh way. The photo above shows the bruising. But why?
No, I wasn’t there to witness this. I am only retelling the story. But if this entire scenario began because someone was not wearing a mask, I have to question — and fear — the direction our country is going in.
And you could be next.