Now, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is looking into the incident and could pursue criminal charges.
In a statement to CNN, Vons said employees had asked the customer to remove the hood, but the customer ignored the requests until they made it to the checkout area.
“This was a disturbing incident for our associates and customers, and we are reviewing with our team how to best handle such inappropriate situations in the future,” Vons said in the statement.
It’s not clear whether the customer was allowed to check out with groceries or eventually removed the hood.
The Santee Vons where the incident occurred did not respond to CNN’s repeated calls for comment.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said deputies weren’t called to the store at the time of the incident. But detectives are “looking into the matter” now and will pursue criminal charges if necessary, the department said in a statement.
Customers were scared to approach
Customer Alisa Wentzel told CNN she spotted the shopper, whom she believes was a man, as soon as she entered the store. He was waiting in the checkout line, she said, wearing the hood.
At first she didn’t believe what she was seeing, she told CNN.
Wentzel moved between aisles to sneak photos of him and keep her distance.
“Management should be doing something, but I didn’t see anyone talking to him,” she said. “He was just standing in line.”
By the time she’d finished her shopping at the self-checkout lane some 30 minutes later, the man was in line waiting for a cashier, still wearing his hood, she said.
“I just remember feeling so heartbroken, so hopeless and then also just really upset that this would happen in the community that I raise my family in,” she said. “I was just in utter shock and disbelief. I still feel that way.”
Santee’s reputation for racial intolerance
The city condemned this latest instance of racial intolerance.
“Many thanks to all who stepped forward to curtail this sad reminder of intolerance,” Santee Mayor John Minto said in a statement on behalf of Santee City Council. ”Santee and its citizens are great, and this particular individual’s actions are not representative of us as a people and a wonderful city.”