One man allegedly shot an Aurora Waffle House cook after he was told to put on a mask before he ordered.
Another man reportedly threw rocks and vandalized windows at the Tri-County Health Department after telling them via Facebook they were putting small businesses under.
The incidents, which happened within a few days of each other in Arapahoe County, highlight the increasing anger prosecutors and cops say they’re seeing on the streets from COVID-19 restrictions.
“I get that people get upset and it is one thing to say, ‘Hey I’m going to reopen my restaurant, or I’m going to be in a motorcycle rally,'” Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said. “It is something else to say I’m going to repeatedly damage the property of Tri-County Health or I’m going to shoot someone.”
These aren’t the first cases cops have grappled with involving the state’s public health order since the pandemic. Prosecutors have tacked the charge on to a number of other criminal cases in recent months as Coloradans were asked to stay at home.
Those include a man who allegedly held up a convenience store in Grand Junction in a ski mask that didn’t cover his mouth. And in Vail, a man who reportedly coughed on a grocery store conveyor belt purposely when a clerk asked him to stand six feet away.
But the incidents this month are different: Brauchler says they are signs people are frustrated with the ongoing public health crisis.
Kelvin Watson, 27, of Denver was reportedly an Aurora Waffle House regular.
Shortly after midnight on May 14, Watson went into the store and was told he had to wear a mask to put in a take-away order for food. Watson reportedly left and returned with a mask, but wasn’t wearing it, according to his arrest affidavit. He allegedly pulled out a gun and put it on the counter and told the cook that he could “blow your brains out.” His friend apologized for his behavior and they left.
But the next day, Watson returned, again around midnight, and allegedly shot the cook, Brian Gruhler, after he told Watson he wasn’t going to serve him. Gruhler was treated at the hospital with rib fractures. Watson faces felony attempted second-degree murder criminal charges.
Just a few days before the Waffle House incident, a man named Daniel James Pesch allegedly vandalized the Tri-County Health Department building.
Tri-County has been in the news recently for shuttering a Castle Rock business that opened on Mother’s Day to non-mask-wearing crowds, which violated the state’s public health order.
Pesch allegedly broke Tri-County’s windows, spray-painted the walls, wrote expletives on the building in marker and threatened public officials over Facebook Messenger throughout several weeks in April and May, according to police records.
One message sent to the Tri-County Health Facebook page from an account for a Dan Pesch said, “hope you’re enjoying putting small businesses under, enjoy your broken windows ass-----."
Another message said, “Best part of your policy is I can keep vandalizing the ---- and the cops won’t do ---- about it lol,” according to his affidavit.
CPR reached out to attorneys for both Watson and Pesch and there was no immediate response.
Brauchler said efforts to depopulate county jails as a result of the pandemic have made it harder to crack down on alleged repeated offenders.
“(Pesch) allegedly engaged in repeated conduct. We asked for a significant bond to keep him in, to keep him from offending,” Brauchler said. “And the court said no.”
Brauchler has predicted a crime wave tied to the pandemic and massive economic recession.
Both Pesch and Watson have posted their cash bonds and are out of custody.
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