Police in New York City arrested two men who they say attacked workers at a Trader Joe’s after they were advised that they had to wear masks in the store.
The men entered a Trader Joe’s store on East 32nd Street at approximately 8:50 p.m. July 14, a police spokeswoman said.
Several employees told police that they asked the men to leave the store because they refused to wear masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, the spokeswoman said.
The suspects, John Carrero and Alejandro Escobar, both 34, refused to leave and pulled a mask off the face of one of the employees, police said.
Carrero hit a 22-year-old female employee in the head with a paddle and Escobar then stated that he would return to the store with a firearm, which police said caused “fear and alarm to employees and customers inside of the store.”
After leaving the store, Escobar struck a store window with a chair in an attempt to regain entry, according to police. Carrero and Escobar were both arrested and each faces charges including disorderly conduct, harassment and criminal trespassing.
A spokeswoman for Trader Joe’s, Kenya Friend-Daniel, told NBC News that 8 store employees “suffered some sort of injury” during the altercation, including at least one worker who was treated at a local hospital.
“All the crew members are doing OK and they’re all back at work,” Friend-Daniel said Tuesday.
She said all of the employees at the store — not just those who were working on the evening of July 14 — were given the opportunity to temporarily transfer to another Trader Joe’s location or to receive paid time off.
“They all said that they wanted to continue to work and were fine,” she said.
Trader Joe’s has since hired a security guard at the store.
“We are extremely grateful that everyone is OK and they’re back at work and it isn’t worse,” Friend-Daniel said, adding that “the incident was unfortunate enough.”
Trader Joe’s is cooperating with the ongoing criminal investigation, she said.
She also said the company does not believe the incident was triggered by a request to wear a mask.
“We feel there was a different motivation behind it, such as wanting to start some trouble,” she said.
Other charges against Carrero, of New York, include second-degree assault and criminal possession of a weapon. Escobar, a Bronx resident, is additionally charged with menacing. They were released on their own recognizance and are due in court Oct. 13. Carrero could not immediately be reached for comment.
Escobar denies being the aggressor and said he did not strike a store window with a chair. In a phone interview on Tuesday, he said he was filming a video for his YouTube channel at the time of the incident. He said that he was wearing a mask in the store that covered his mouth and part of his nose, because he has asthma.
“I never would’ve thought that this would turn into a nightmare like this,” he said. He also said that a store employee “put hands” on Carrero, prompting a dispute. “When he got assaulted, he snapped,” Escobar said.