A 57-year-old Wisconsin man may face hate crime “enhancer” charges for verbally harassing a group of Hmong Americans at a grocery store while wearing face masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The incident happened at the Save A Lot grocery store on Church Street in Stevens Point on May 12 when the suspect, identified as Robert Shrote, made “loud, derogatory racial comments against Asians,” according to WAOW.
“They were wearing masks because of COVID, to protect themselves,” Lt. Dana Williams told the news channel.
Upon his arrest, Shrote admitted to the verbal attacks inside the grocery store. He was falsely linking the origin of the pandemic in China to its presence in their community, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
In its official statement, the Stevens Point Police Department learned that there was an increase in harassment within the Asian community when the pandemic began.
“Our community will not tolerate disparaging behavior and harassment,” the police department said. “The Stevens Point Police Department strongly encourages anyone who may have experienced this type of criminal behavior to contact law enforcement immediately.”
Stevens Point Mayor Mike Wiza also released a statement, condemning Shrote’s acts.
“I give you my word that when we see or hear about these issues of hatred, bigotry and racism – that we will deal with them swiftly and justly,” he said.
Although no charges have been officially made, police recommended Shrote to “be charged with disorderly conduct and a hate crime ‘enhancer.'”
According to Dane County District Attorney, Ismael Ozanne, penalty enhancements have “the ability to take a Class B misdemeanor and increase the penalty from 90 days in jail to a year, raise the fine from $1,000 to $10,000 or take a Class A misdemeanor, which would be a nine-month misdemeanor, and turning it into a felony, which would have the ability to have a prison sentence attached to it.”
Feature Image Screenshot via WAOW