ROYAL PALM BEACH FL July 24 2020— A suburban Lake Worth man faces felony charges after he pulled a gun from his waistband and leveled it at a fellow Walmart shopper during an argument over face masks.
The encounter served as a linchpin in the debate over whether store owners and officials should require people to cover their faces inside buildings as the U.S. battles a surge in cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
Vincent Scavetta, 28, was charged with aggravated assault with a firearm and improper exhibition of a firearm and arrested Wednesday after turning himself in, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office officials report.
Widely circulated video showed Scavetta on July 12 arguing with another man in the electronics department of the Walmart on the southeast corner of Belvedere Road and State Road 7. In the video, Scavetta is seen pulling a gun from his waistband and waving it at the other man.
Prompted by reports that the argument was mask-related, the story quickly went viral after Sheriff’s officials shared surveillance images of Scavetta and asked for help to identify him.
According to the arrest report, Scavetta told investigators that it was pouring rain when he arrived at Walmart the day of the argument, and that he had to walk outside from one end of the store to the other entrance while pushing his father in a wheelchair.
Once inside, Scavetta said he had to take his mask off because it was soaked, making it difficult to breathe and causing his glasses to fog.
The other man involved in the incident, 46-year-old Christopher Estrada of West Palm Beach, told deputies on the day of the incident that he was shopping with his daughter when he told another man in the electronics department at Walmart that he should cover his face.
Estrada told deputies that man, Scavetta, swore at him. The two argued for a few minutes, drawing the attention of other customers who tried to break up the two men, Estrada said.
When Scavetta reached toward the waistband of his shorts, Estrada reportedly told him that he didn’t care about his gun — a moment captured in the viral video. Then Scavetta pulled out his gun, pointed it at Estrada and said, “I’ll kill you,” authorities said.
Other shoppers stepped in and both men walked away, according to the report.
While Scavetta and his father left the store immediately, Estrada stayed at Walmart with his daughter and called the sheriff’s office, the report states.
Scavetta has an active concealed weapons license, sheriff’s officials report.
Three days later, on July 15, Walmart announced it would require all shoppers and employees to cover their noses and mouths. The change went into effect July 20.
The debate over who is responsible for enforcing mask mandates and where masks should be worn has led to similar altercations throughout the U.S. since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
While federal health and public safety officials recommend face coverings for people over age 2 to help prevent spread of the virus, there is no blanket requirement to wear masks in the U.S. The federal government has balked at such a directive, instead leaving the decision up to states or in some cases county and municipal governments.
Palm Beach County’s mask requirement went into effect June 25. No similar rule exists for the entire state, although other counties — including Broward and Miami-Dade — have levied such orders.
In some cases, business employees who try to enforce face mask requirements have been verbally or physically assaulted. A security guard at a Family Dollar store in Michigan was shot and killed in May after refusing entry to a woman who would not wear a mask.
In other cases, customers who refuse to don face coverings have acted out in other ways. One woman peed on the floor of a California Verizon store after repeatedly saying she would not abide by the company’s mandatory mask policy.
Some mask policies have prompted protests from those who do not believe the government has the power to require residents to wear face coverings. Public meetings where boards are considering mask mandates regularly draw hours of comments from people who oppose the measures.