A white New Jersey man found himself in police custody last week after assaulting and hurling racial slurs at a man who he blamed for the COVID-19 outbreak.
The bizarre incident unfolded Sunday, March 15, at a ShopRite market in Franklin Borough, according to the New Jersey Herald. Robert A. Winter was speaking with another man about the large number of people in the store stocking up on essential items.
Their conversation turned physical, authorities say, when Winter put his hands on the man and proceeded to refer to him “using a racial slur and blaming him, in part, for the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Police hit the 65-year-old with several charges, including making terrorist threats, simple assault and two counts of bias intimidation. He’s since been released from custody pending a virtual court hearing.
The fast-spreading virus, which was first reported in Wuhan, China, late last year, has infected over 41,500 people across the U.S. and hundreds of thousands more globally. The illness has forced the closures of schools, restaurants and other businesses, with public health officials urging people to remain at home and practice social distancing.
Court records show this month’s incident isn’t Winter’s first brush with the law. In 2018, the New Jersey man was jailed for a verbal outburst after a nor’easter that dropped over 18 inches of snow caused a massive power outage that left Winter and thousands of other local area residents in the dark.
When he called the utility company to complain, authorities say an agitated Winter threatened to kidnap a utility worker and “indicated he knows how to make bombs and he would blow up a sub-station so no one would have power,” CBS New York reported.
In that case, he was charged with third-degree terroristic threats.