A man from Sterling, Virginia, who didn’t wear a mask and blew on protesters outside the Trump National Golf Club has been charged with a misdemeanor assault, according to the Loudoun County sheriff’s office.
In a video shared on Twitter on Saturday, Raymond Deskins, 61, wears an inflatable Trump inner tube and approaches protesters. One demonstrator tells him, “You’re in my face and you don’t have a mask.”
As shown in the video, Deskins takes a deep breath and huffs at her.
As the video circulated online, Loudoun County board chair Phyllis Randall sent a letter to Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman and commonwealth’s attorney Buta Biberaj. In it, Randall referenced the deadly nature of the pandemic and that “all of the Loudoun County numbers are headed in the wrong direction.”
“Given these facts, I request that a full investigation be completed to ascertain if the man seen coughing in the video has violated any laws, and if so, are charges applicable,” she wrote.
The sheriff’s office said in a statement that two separate parties reported they were assaulted.
“As the incident was not witnessed by law enforcement and the video did not capture the entire interaction, an investigation was conducted on scene and both parties were advised they could go to a Loudoun County Magistrate and seek a citizen obtained warrant,” the sheriff’s office tells DCist/WAMU via email.
The sheriff’s office said Deskins was charged with misdemeanor simple assault and released on a summons.
Protester Kathy Beynette, an artist based in Leesburg, tells DCist/WAMU she shot the video that circulated widely online. She is part of a group that regularly assembles when President Trump visits his golf course in Potomac Falls, Va.
Beynette says that on Saturday morning she was once again outside the golf club, anticipating the presidential motorcade, when “out of nowhere a guy with a Trump blowup toy strapped under his belly comes charging across from his side.”
Beynette says she asked Deskins to keep his distance, saying he didn’t have a mask and was moving too close. She says Deskins laughed, then started “violently exhaling onto” another protester.
Beynette declined to give her age, but says, “It makes it even worse that he would come over and deliberately expose two senior citizens to COVID when everybody knows we are at higher risk.”
DCist/WAMU made calls to several numbers listed for Deskins but could not reach him for comment.
Beynette says she asked sheriff’s deputies monitoring the scene to investigate what she believed was assault; however, she says they claimed they had not witnessed the event. Instead, she says deputies told her to obtain a warrant from the magistrate.
“It happened under their noses. And the fact they didn’t want to do it just reflects a bias in the department,” she says.
Michele Bowman, a spokesperson with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, wrote to DCist/WAMU that “an investigation was conducted on scene.”
Criminal defense lawyer Brad Haywood, a public defender in Arlington, says law enforcement might have hesitated because there is little precedent for this kind of case.
“It’s quite possible they look at this and they say, ‘I have never seen a case like this, where breathing constituted an assault and I’m not going to be the first one to get that snowball running down the hill,'” he says.
Haywood says Deskins’ alleged conduct could be considered assault under previous court decisions.
“An assault in Virginia is any angry, rude, or offensive touching, as prior case law indicates, and that can include something indirect. It doesn’t just have to be a push or a slap or a punch. It can be something like spitting on somebody,” he says.
A misdemeanor charge can carry a punishment of a fine or up to 12 months in jail, Haywood says, and knowingly infecting someone with a serious disease could trigger a felony charge.
Nationwide, people who appear to be intentionally spreading COVID-19 have begun facing charges.
In Warranton, Missouri, a 26-year-old man was charged in March with a terrorist threat after he licked a row of deodorant sticks after saying into a camera “Who’s scared of coronavirus?” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Deskins has a prior record; in 2012, he was convicted by a federal jury on mail fraud and false statements related to failing to disclose work he did to the Department of Labor’s Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs.