PUNTA GORDA — A Punta Gorda man was arrested Tuesday after allegedly spitting on two women and making derogatory racial comments in a dispute over mangoes.
Donald Mueller, 73, of the 2700 block of Aqua Court, allegedly told a Black woman, “You know why Black lives don’t matter, because you Black people keep ...”
The incident is the first hate crime the Punta Gorda Police Department has reported to the state in years.
Lt. Dylan Renz said he has never had to report a hate crime in the 3.5 years he’s been on the job, and he doesn’t believe the department had any hate crimes reported within the city in the last decade or more.
The incident began when two women stopped on Hibiscus Drive in Punta Gorda to gather mangoes. A Black woman visiting her cousin from out of town was hoping to move back to Punta Gorda from Deltona to be near her immediate family.
Her cousin, a white woman, was in the passenger seat while she drove. Her cousin said she had previously gotten permission from a homeowner on the street to gather mangoes.
The homeowner was not home on Tuesday when she knocked on the door, but the women gathered three mangoes that had fallen on the ground, they told police.
While they were parked, a white Cadillac arrived and first stopped where the driver could see the women’s license plate and drove away.
The Cadillac later returned and Mueller got out and accused the women of stealing mangoes from his home on Aqua Court, two blocks away.
He allegedly told the women, “If I see this truck again, I am going to pump you full of bullet holes.”
The Black victim began recording the interaction on her cell phone, capturing Mueller as he called her “stupid, thieving” and made the comment that Black lives don’t matter.
When she told him to get away from her vehicle, he started to walk away, then turned back and gestured his middle finger toward her, according to an arrest affidavit.
She then said, “Punch me so I can beat the f--- out of you,” and he lunged toward her and spit on her left eye, left cheek and into her mouth, according to the affidavit.
The victim got out of the car and slapped Mueller, who spit on her a second time before getting back into his vehicle and leaving the area.
The two women went to the police department to report the crime and both seemed distraught and believe the incident happened due to the Black victim’s race, according to police.
The white victim told investigators there are multiple places in Punta Gorda where residents put out mangoes and allow people to take them. She had gathered mangoes from that address with her daughter in the recent past, she said.
Other neighbors also said the homeowner had been known to leave mangoes on wooden stools or in baskets and people have been known to harvest the mangoes without the homeowner being present.
However, Mueller’s lawyer Jason Lucas said Mueller was friends with the homeowner, who was in Michigan at the time, and the two had been watching over each other’s property after noticing their mangoes going missing.
When Mueller found the two women on the property, he confronted them about their “burglary in progress,” Lucas said.
“He found a car on the property with two ladies were actually committing a burglary themselves,” he said. “The police report says they were on the property without permission stealing mangoes.”
Lucas said an argument ensued and that he believes the women called the police because they were worried about having the police called on them. Lucas had not seen the video as of Thursday afternoon, so he declined to comment further on the allegations against Mueller.
In the affidavit, police wrote the charges as two counts of burglary with assault or battery, but Lt. Justin Davoult said Thursday afternoon that was an error and the correct charges are one count of burglary and two counts of battery.The burglary charge is because Mueller allegedly leaned into the victims vehicle.
Mueller was released from jail after posting bond Wednesday. His arraignment will be Aug. 10 at 8:30 a.m. at the Charlotte County Justice Center.