Suspect arrested in social distancing attack at Florida Publix, police say

59-year-old man accused of punching elderly victim

DAYTONA BEACH SHORES, Fla. – A man accused of punching an elderly man after the victim asked the suspect’s girlfriend to social distance while in line at Publix has been arrested, according to the Daytona Beach Shores Police Department.

Police first publicized the attack on Monday by releasing photos to the media in attempt to identify the culprit.

According to the report, the 75-year-old victim was checking out at a store on South Atlantic Avenue Sunday afternoon when he noticed the woman behind him was standing closer than the suggested six feet of space meant to stop the spread of COVID-19, so he asked her to step back and she did.

The man left the store without any further encounters with the woman but then as he was in the parking lot, police said 59-year-old Peter Capozzi approached him, told him, “You (expletive) redneck gator, how dare you?” and told him he had been holding up the line.

During the confrontation, Capozzi punched the victim in the chest, causing him to fall onto the asphalt, according to the report.

“This was quite an upsetting incident for all of us,” Director Stephan Dembinsky said. “If you ask somebody nicely to do something, why would somebody else want to hit you or punch you out for that.”

Records show the victim accused Capozzi of standing over him and saying, “One word and I’ll kill you.”

Capozzi and his girlfriend left the store in a late-model Cadillac but turned themselves in to police on Tuesday.

Police said Capozzi went to the store with his girlfriend that day and after they arrived, they split up and purchased groceries at separate check out lanes.

He said he had noticed the victim in the store earlier near the pharmacy and he remembered him because he was speaking loudly, then later noticed him in line in front of his girlfriend, dropping change and “taking a really long time to check out, ultimately holding up the rest of the line.”

Capozzi said that after he met back up with his girlfriend as they were leaving the store, she told him that the victim yelled at her about social distancing, records show.

Police said Capozzi then saw the victim parked in front of his Cadillac so he approached and asked, “What’s your problem? Why are you yelling at my girlfriend?”

Capozzi admitted to being face to face, yelling at the elderly victim, and then said the victim bumped him and fell backward, according to the report.

He denied threatening the man or punching him and said he didn’t believe the contact between the two was enough to cause the victim to fall, authorities said.

“The victim was obviously bruised and quite frankly, the subject’s story does not play out to be the truth and we knew we had enough to get a warrant, which we did,” Dembinsky said.

Capozzi claimed he realized the victim was in his 70s and offered to help him up from the ground but left the scene because he didn’t know the police would be called, records show.

Police said the victim had a bruise on his chest where he said Capozzi punched him. The report also noted that the victim recently had a stent placed in his heart.

A warrant was issued Wednesday and Capozzi was arrested at his Ponce Inlet home on a charge of battery on a person 65 years of age or older.

“We don’t arrest innocent people. I’m going to say that because this was a confrontation that should not have happened,” Dembinsky said.

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