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Argument on masks, social distancing preceded Livonia spitting, assault charges

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Livonia — A police report on an early-August incident between two men at a Livonia gas station reveals the genesis of the conflict was line-cutting and a COVID-19-era debate on masks vs social distancing.

At about 12:30 p.m. Aug. 8, two men approached the counter at the Exxon gas station at 13801 Merriman. 

Monday:Man faces charges over Livonia mask confrontation, spitting

As they waited, the report says, 49-year-old Brian Brown asked a 56-year-old man to back up because he was standing too close.

"Where is your mask, buddy?" the man said.

Public health experts have recommended both physical distancing of at least six feet between people and wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans since March.

The men argued, the report says, with Brown arguing in favor of social distancing, the other man in favor of masks.

Then, the report says, Brown, allegedly "brought up phlegm and spit it at him, striking him on the arm and head," allegedly calling him "white devil" as he did it.

Brown is Black. The victim is white.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy says those actions rise to assault and ethnic intimidation, charging Brown with both.

Livonia Police Department says it is in the process of reaching out to arrange Brown's booking and arraignment.

A police review of security camera footage indicates the conflict started when the victim thought the suspect cut in front of him in line. It describes the suspect as "highly agitated" and said the phlegm was visible even on camera.

After the alleged assault, police say Brown got back into his light blue trailer tractor and left the gas station, pulling two gravel haulers behind him.

Using identifying information from the tractor, Det. Brian Uzoni came up with Brown's identity through an Ypsilanti business. Within a week of the alleged spitting, the victim identified Brown in a photo lineup.

Uzoni reached Brown by phone and asked what happened, the report said. Brown responded that he had a bad day. He said he entered the station and asked the clerk to ring him up for a water. The clerk said he'd have to bring the water to the counter.

When Brown went back to the cooler to grab it, he told police, the victim had entered the store. Brown felt the man was standing too close, not keeping his social distance.

That's when the victim asked where his mask was, Brown said. 

"Brown claimed that he sensed bad energy coming from (the victim)," the report reads. "Brown stated that he is a Christian and can sense bad demonic energy."

The detective asked if he called the victim a white demon or white devil and the suspect said he probably did, but couldn't remember, the report claims.

When asked about the spitting, Brown claimed he was trying to clear his throat, and that anything that landed on the victim was accidental.

Attempts to reach both victim and suspect through publicly listed numbers were unsuccessful.