Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Cody Westfall, an employee at Simply Diego’s pet store, was just doing his job.
Since COVID-19 hit, that includes asking people to wear a mask when inside the Northeast Albuquerque shop.
“Most people have been pretty good about it – we have had a couple people who raised a stink and maybe left,” Westfall said.
But on Thursday afternoon, a man menaced him with a gun at the request.
“I’ve had a couple people say ‘it’s stupid’ or ‘I’ve got a medical condition’ – I didn’t expect the bar to go from zero to 20 at the drop of a hat,” he said.
Westfall said five minutes before he clocked out, around 1:15 p.m., a customer walked in without a mask on.
“I asked ‘Do you happen to have a mask on you?'” he said.
The man said no, and kept browsing. When Westfall pressed the issue, the man turned, with a smirk, and asked if he was going to “make him.”
Westfall told him it was store policy and the man walked toward the clerk, a gun on his hip.
“With the same grin on his face … he gestured to it with his hand and repeated himself, ‘Are you sure you’re going to make me wear a mask?'” Westfall said.
“At that point, I didn’t think he was threatening me. Honestly, the first thing that went through my mind was ‘What’s having a gun have to do with COVID-19?'”
Undeterred, Westfall said he told the man it is now a policy enforced by the governor. And again the man gestured to the gun and said “Are you sure?”
Westfall said that it then clicked that he was being threatened and he was “taken aback.”
“I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I shrugged and said, ‘Yep, sorry,'” he said. “He walked out of the store, laughing to himself the entire time.”
Westfall said they made a police report and are pressing charges. Although they don’t know his name, officers have “something to work with” based on his description.
“I was pretty shaken up,” he said. “… Just how quickly that escalated from asking somebody to wear a mask and the very next thing they’re threatening me with a gun.”
Westfall said he will continue to follow the policy, but the incident did give him pause.
“There’s a small part of me now that, I’m going to start wincing when I have to ask people because, I didn’t expect that. That was completely out of the blue,” he said. “I will continue asking people, but it might fill me with more anxiety or might turn me off later down the road to asking. I know that was this man’s intention.”
“It’s unfortunately a part of the job ecosystem nowadays,” he said. “I feel for people who are in the same situation.”