A man accused of spitting and making racially biased comments against women picking mangoes in Punta Gorda Isles is now being sued in civil court.
Donald Mueller, 73, was arrested on June 23, charged with two counts of burglary with assault or battery, after the argument with the two women, Katrina Montonaro and Leiya Rey.
According to the police report, Montonaro, a White woman, had stopped to gather mangoes on Hibiscus Drive with her cousin Rey, a Black woman.
Mueller believed the two were stealing mangoes from his neighbor, though Montonaro claimed she had gotten permission from the homeowner in the past.
He came up to their vehicle and reportedly said, “If I see this truck again, I am going to pump you full with bullet holes.”
He also called the women “stupid, thieving bastard” and stated, “You know why Black lives don’t matter, because you Black people keep...”
Before walking away, he spat on the women — once directly and a second time when it was unclear where his saliva landed, according to the police report.
The Punta Gorda Police Department charged Mueller with two counts of burglary with battery and initially reported the incident as a hate crime, but on Thursday, Lt. Dylan Renz told the Sun it did not actually qualify as one.
“The SAO (State Attorney’s Office) reviewed this and determined that it did not qualify as a hate crime,” Renz said. “Our understanding is that based on case law, although there is clearly evidence of racial bias, there is no evidence that the racial bias was the cause of the crime. Basically, the disturbance was caused because he believed someone was stealing mangoes and not because of bias. The bias only came out after the disturbance had begun.”
Samantha Syoen, spokesperson for the State Attorney’s Office, said earlier in the week the case is under review. Mueller’s arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 10.
The civil lawsuit was filed by Montonaro and asks for damages in excess of $30,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress and battery.
Rey is not a plaintiff in the suit, though her presence is noted. The lawsuit stated Montonaro was in the driver’s seat of the vehicle, though the police report says she was in the passenger’s seat, and the video filmed by Rey appears to be taken from the driver’s seat.
Montonaro’s attorney, Carlos Cavenago, of Fort Myers, was not available to comment Thursday.
The suit states Mueller’s conduct was “outrageous” and goes “beyond all bounds of decency,” stating he knew or should have known his behavior would result in emotional distress.
Mueller’s attorney could not be reached for comment Thursday.