Men Posed as Marshals to Avoid Masks at Florida Resort, Authorities Say
Two men were arrested and charged with impersonating a federal officer after they pretended to be U.S. marshals to avoid wearing masks at a South Florida resort, according to a criminal complaint.
Walter Wayne Brown Jr., 53, and Gary Brummett, 81, flashed mask exemption cards and fake U.S. marshal badges to get around mask rules at the hotel, according to the criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. They were arrested last week after a real U.S. marshal was sent to the hotel to validate their claims.
The men were guests at the Wyndham Deerfield Beach Resort, an oceanfront hotel in Broward County, Fla. The resort did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the arrests, which were reported by The South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
During their confrontations with members of the resort’s staff, both men wore “authentic appearing” circular badges with a seven-point star that read “Cherokee Nation Marshal” and “Aniyvwiya Criminal Justice Deputy,” according to the complaint.
Around their necks hung laminated cards that read “FACEMASK EXEMPT NOTICE/CARD.” The cards said that they were “exempt from any ordinance requiring face mask usage in public” and that “wearing a face mask poses a mental and/or physical risk to me.”
“Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I am not required to disclose my conditions to you,” the cards said. The cards also listed the real A.D.A. violations reporting phone number.
During his stay, Mr. Brummett approached the front desk to ask for a coffee, according to the criminal complaint. When an employee working at the front desk asked him to wear a mask, Mr. Brummett presented the face mask exemption card and said that the hotel would be fined $75,000 if he were forced to wear a mask. Then he pointed to a badge on his belt and threatened to arrest the employee.
“Do you know what this means? I’m a U.S. marshal and can have you arrested if you force me to wear a mask,” Mr. Brummett said, according to the complaint.
On two separate occasions, Mr. Brown showed a similar card and U.S. marshal identification to hotel managers when he was asked to wear a mask in public areas of the resort, the complaint said.
Members of the hotel’s staff “thought it was strange for a federal agent to make an issue about wearing a mask,” the complaint said, so they notified the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, which called a real U.S. marshal to investigate the authenticity of the claims.
The men have never been employed by the U.S. Marshals Service or the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service, which is based in North Carolina and Oklahoma, the complaint said.
The men were arrested on Feb. 11, according to Broward County Sheriff’s Office records. If convicted, the men could face a fine or up to three years in prison.
Lawyers for Mr. Brown and Mr. Brummett did not immediately respond to inquiries.
Fraudulent cards that claim to offer exemptions to mask rules have circulated since the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. At one point, a group called the Freedom to Breathe Agency sold the cards online in boxes of at least 500 for $49.99. Federal officials have said such cards were not issued or endorsed by the Justice Department.
Though health officials, including those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommend wearing face coverings in public to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, there remains resistance among some who view mask rules as an infringement on personal liberty.
Kitty Bennett contributed research.