Texas man cited with disorderly conduct over mask dispute

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — A 47-year-old Texas man was cited for disorderly conduct Thursday after he allegedly smacked the hand of a San Antonio-area official who was trying to persuade him to put on a face covering, officials said. The man’s lawyer disputes the claim.

Terry Toller turned himself in to the Bexar County Sheriff’s office the day after he was accused of striking the hand of County Judge Nelson Wolff, who local authorities said tried to intervene as Toller berated a cashier at a Lowe’s home improvement store for requiring him to wear a mask.

Toller was taken into custody on a charge of assault on a public servant, but prosecutors dropped the felony at Wolff’s request and instead cited Toller for using profanity in a public place, said Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales. Toller could be fined up to $500, if he’s convicted of the low-level misdemeanor.

Nico LaHood, Toller’s lawyer, said his client was not yelling at the cashier and never touched Wolff. “This case was extremely overblown,” he said.

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Toller was released less than three hours after he turned himself in and was not booked into jail, a sheriff’s spokeswoman said.

Toller’s confrontation with Wolff, the county’s top executive, came after the judge ordered businesses to require face coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19. The order comes with a possible fine of $1,000 per violation.

Security camera footage of the Wednesday incident shows Toller swat a proffered business card out of Wolff’s hand as the two men are at the store’s checkout.

There is no audio with the footage, but LaHood said Toller’s calm demeanor as he can be seen placing items by the register shows he was not berating the cashier.

Wolff said in a statement that he told the district attorney he did not want to pursue criminal charges against Toller as it might draw focus from efforts to address the drastic rise in hospitalizations and cases of the new coronavirus.

“We do not need any distractions from our mission to make sure this virus does not continue to spread within our community,” he said.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday halted elective surgeries in the state’s biggest counties and said he would “pause” it’s aggressive economic reopening statewide. Texas has reported more than 17,000 new cases in the last three days with a record high 5,996 on Thursday. The state has seen a doubling of the infection rate to more than 10%.

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