A recent incident where police were called by CVS employees because a customer refused to leave when asked after refusing to wear a mask has reignited the local debate on mask enforcement.

Last week, Evansville Police released body camera footage of the incident that happened in late August.

According to police, officers were called to the CVS at East Morgan Avenue. When they arrived, they escorted Craig Allen Hammonds, 23, out of the building.

EPD spokesperson Sgt. Nick Winsett said the interaction between Hammonds and the police was peaceful.

Later Hammonds made a Facebook video accusing the officers of using extreme force on him, causing an injury to his shoulder and violating his rights.

In his Facebook video, Hammonds said he is getting an attorney to bring civil litigation against EPD.

In a post to Facebook, Evansville Police wrote: “The city attorney is looking forward to this debate.”

This incident of a customer refusing to wear a mask is similar to many that have transpired across the country since states started issuing mask mandates.

Videos circulating on social media show customers becoming violent and aggressive with store employees for being asked to wear a mask.

EPD says so far, in Evansville, these kinds of incidents have been rare.

“We haven’t been getting a lot of that. I think people realize that they’re supposed to be wearing masks, and if they don’t, they’re asked to leave, and they do leave,” Winsett said.

The Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Department, as well as EPD, have said they will not be enforcing the mask mandate.

They said their only role will be responding to businesses complaining of a customer who won’t leave.

“It’s trespassing. If you don’t want to wear a mask, that’s your thing. But if a business asks you to leave because of that, you are required to leave,” Winsett said.

Some local business owners have also said they won’t be enforcing the mandate in their establishments, citing concerns of potentially violent customers.

Some businesses that are enforcing it have resorted to putting their employees through confrontation and de-escalation training as well as having security.

Currently, in Vanderburgh County, there aren’t punishments for businesses that don’t enforce these measures.

Joe Gries, the health department administrator, said Indiana’s mask mandate isn’t anything that’s enforceable.

“It’s really through education and providing information to people, and hopefully they understand it helps reduce risk so that hopefully everyone participates. That’s the extent of our role.”

The department only has control over dining establishments they inspect.

Gries said there have been a handful of local places that have been fined for not following state guidelines on mask usage.

“We go out and do an inspection, provide information. We have a process where we try to get them to understand the restaurant workers, staff have to wear their masks and do certain things like cleaning, disinfecting,” Gries said.

“If we get multiple complaints, we have to issue a formal letter then process a fine or close a restaurant down for some time until they get compliance.”
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