Hotel staff at the Wyndham Deerfield Beach Resort asked two maskless men to cover their faces. When they refused, it was the lie they told that got them arrested, according to a federal complaint.
Instead of calling COVID-19 a hoax or going off about the First Amendment, they told hotel staff they were U.S. Marshals and flashed phony passes — similar to ones that have been used by others around the U.S. who claim to be exempt from any mask-wearing requirement.
The men also threatened to arrest employees and saddle the hotel with a hefty fine if they tried to tell them otherwise, authorities say.
They nearly tricked everyone, except for one employee who knew they were acting suspicious and called the police. When the police and a real Marshal got there on Feb. 11, the scheme collapsed and Walter Wayne Brown Jr., 53, and Gary Brummett, 81 were arrested and charged with impersonating a federal officer.
According to the complaint, a hotel manager said Brummett had gone to the front desk earlier on Feb. 11 to ask for a coffee.
When the manager and another hotel employee told him he needed to wear a mask, Brummett flashed a laminated card that said he was medically exempt from wearing one. When the manager asked again, Brummet pointed to a badge he wore on his belt.
“Do you know what this means,” he said, according to the complaint. “I’m a U.S. Marshal and can have you arrested if you force me to wear a mask.”
On Feb. 9, the employees had a similar confrontation with Brown Jr. when he first checked into the hotel.
One employee gave Brown Jr. a mask and asked him to wear it. But Brown Jr. said he was a federal agent and did not have to, according to the complaint. Like Brummett, he pointed to a badge on his belt and a card around his neck.
It is unclear if Brown Jr. ever put on a mask. But the next day, on Feb. 10, the complaint says he came back to the front desk to extend his stay. When the manager asked him to wear a mask again, he threatened to have the employee arrested.
After the interactions, hotel employees became suspicious that the men were who they said they were. One employee who told police that her cousin is a U.S. Marshal said she knew they would never act that way.
When police were called, they found Brown Jr. and Brummett dining in a resort restaurant on Feb. 11.
Both men wore “authentic appearing” circular badges that read “Cherokee Nation Marshal,” according to the complaint. They gave police ID cards identifying them as Aniyvwiya Tribal Nation members.
But personnel checks revealed that neither Brown Jr. nor Brummett had ever been employees of the U.S. Marshals Service or the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service, according to the complaint.
Around their necks each man also wore laminated cards titled “Facemask Exempt Notice/Card.” According to the complaint, the cards stated that the person wearing it was exempt from any ordinance requiring a face mask in public.
“Wearing a face mask poses a mental and/or physical risk to me,” the cards read. “Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, I am not required to disclose my condition to you.” The cards said businesses found to violate the ADA could face a $75,000 fine.
Like their Marshal credentials, the cards were also fake.
They’d been used so many times around the country, that in June, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband made a statement to debunk any card or document that claimed anyone was exempt from a face mask.
“The ADA does not provide a blanket exemption to people with disabilities from complying with legitimate safety requirements,” he said.
The cards were not even new for South Florida.
In July, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg tweeted an example card similar to the one investigators said Brummett and Brown Jr. wore and also debunked it. “Such cards have NO legal authority,” he wrote.
Both Brummett and Brown Jr. were taken into custody on after their interview with police.
The men remain in jail awaiting bond hearings.
Andrew Boryga can be reached at 954-356-4533 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @borywrites.