A 23-year-old Durango woman has been cited with disorderly conduct on suspicion of punching a man in the face after a dispute about wearing face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.
Durango Police Department Cmdr. Ray Shupe said officers were called to O’Reilly Auto Parts at 2475 Main Ave. around 6:15 p.m. Friday after the alleged male victim and multiple witnesses alerted authorities of the incident.
According to investigators, the woman, identified as Sadie Wendt, was in line to check out at O’Reilly Auto Parts when she started asking the store manager why customers were not wearing face masks.
An intense verbal altercation occurred between Wendt and other customers in line who were not wearing face masks. During the argument, police said Wendt walked up to a man not wearing a face mask and punched him in the face.
Shupe said the man, identified as Ryan Bartholomew, 38, of Bayfield tried to defend himself and took Wendt to the ground. Bartholomew then reportedly tried multiple times to keep Wendt on the ground until police could arrive.
Wendt, however, left the store and drove away. She, too, called police to report the incident.
Shupe said Wendt was cited with disorderly conduct. He said multiple witnesses in the store corroborated that Wendt was the instigator in the situation and that Bartholomew took actions only to defend himself.
Wendt told The Durango Herald on Monday that only a small number of people in the store Friday were wearing masks, and she expressed to the store manager that it was an unsafe environment.
She said five to eight people in line then started screaming at her that she was a “libtard,” that it was a “free country” and that it is “a constitutional right to not wear a mask.”
Wendt said Bartholomew told her to “choke yourself with your mask.”
“I went up and hit him in the face because I felt threatened,” she said.
Wendt contends that Bartholomew threw her to the ground, put her in a chokehold and started beating her. Wendt said she eventually got free, but Bartholomew blocked the exit until the store manager intervened.
Wendt said there were bruises on her leg, marks on her neck, and her back is in severe pain from being hit in the back. She said she went to the hospital to get “proof for court.”
“His natural instinct was self-defense,” she said. “But what happened after initial self-defense was uncalled for and unsafe. I was scared for my life.”
Shupe said multiple witness statements do not align with Wendt’s account of the incident. Wendt responded that authorities talked to witnesses who were not wearing masks and on Bartholomew’s side.
Bartholomew declined to comment for this story.
Bartholomew, speaking to officers, said Wendt was “running her mouth” and he told her to “shut up,” according to a police report. He then told officers he grabbed Wendt and “put her on the ground” in self-defense.
Speaking to the Herald, Curtis Wood, manager on duty at the time of the incident, said Bartholomew did hold Wendt down by the neck, but never struck her.
“There were a volley of words and name-calling back and forth ... then she walked through the crowd and punched this guy in the face,” Wood said. “He never, ever struck her. He defended himself.”
Wood said no security camera is in the store, which is the same location where a police-involved shooting occurred July 1, resulting in the death of a Pagosa Springs man. He said up to 10 people gave witness statements to police.
“Witnesses are against her because she’s telling lies,” Wood said. “Her story is not true.”
Wood said he does not require masks in the store because it is a “mandate” and not an enforceable law.
“I can’t make them,” Wood said. “And now this whole thing has blown completely out of proportion and I’m getting threatening calls at work.”
Wendt said she intends to press charges against Bartholomew.
“I will be fighting this for justice, because what happened is not OK,” she said.
Shupe said since masks became mandatory in Durango, there have been several instances of verbal altercations, but this is the first situation where the issue of masks escalated into violence.
Shupe said officers have not written a citation for the mask ordinance, preferring instead to focus on education and verbal warnings. Bartholomew was not cited for not wearing a mask, but those charges could be added on by the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office at a later date, Shupe said.