Group shops at Trader Joe's without wearing masks, says it is in protest of mask requirements

"This is not acceptable in our community and we're going to take aggressive action when we have the opportunity to do so," Santa Cruz Police Chief Andrew Mills said.
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Posted at 1:54 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 16:54:52-05

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KERO) — A group of maskless people stormed the Trader Joe's in downtown Santa Cruz, California flouting the county's mask mandate on Valentine's Day. The anti-mask group calls it a "Cash Drop," and posted a video of it to YouTube.

The group came into a Trader Joe's over the weekend and ignored calls from store employees to leave. They say they have the right to shop freely at a business open to the public without wearing masks, but Santa Cruz PD says that's not the case. They say private stores can refuse service.

A YouTube video viewed more than 25,000 times is sparking debate over mask mandates. The video shows the group of about a dozen maskless shoppers rushing into a Trader Joe's store in Santa Cruz. The group which calls themselves freedom advocates, is then asked to leave multiple times by workers.

A sign outside the store says face coverings are required while shopping inside.

At checkout, the group tries to place their money on the counter. That's when workers refuse.

The group calls this a "cash drop" where they enter a store without masks and try to buy a couple of items with cash. They write down a list of the items, leave their money and walk out.

They say they have a right to shop freely without masks. But Santa Cruz Police Chief Andrew Mills is speaking out against the move.

"This is not acceptable in our community and we're going to take aggressive action when we have the opportunity to do so," he said.

Santa Cruz County is currently under an order requiring face coverings, which states that violators could face fines or go to jail for failure to comply. But in a statement to KION, Tim Welch with the group said: "There is no law passed by the legislature requiring anyone to wear a mask. Contrary to popular opinion, any store open to the public cannot unlawfully discriminate by requiring customers to wear a mask."

So KION asked Welch, does the group not consider the mandate to be law?

He did not elaborate, but in a letter to Chief Mills, the group claims people are following orders of "officials who do not have the authority to issue."

"Once the store owner tells you to get out of the store, they're refusing service to you. You have to leave and if the corporate Trader Joe's or any other corporation is willing to prosecute, we will absolutely make that arrest, issue those citations, and if it continues. We can put them in jail," said Chief Mills.

Trader Joe's corporate has not commented on the incident. Meanwhile, the police chief says county-wide, hundreds of citations have been issued to violators of the health orders.