For a short time Halloween night, Michael Esposito felt like a celebrity.
Sporting a large cardboard cut-out mask of President Barack Obama, the 34-year-old Sterling resident, his wife and children, took to Dulles Town Center for trick-or-treating activities.
Throughout the night, Esposito was stopped more than 20 times by adoring Obama fans who wanted their picture taken with the faux commander-in-chief.
But the fun came abruptly to an end when a Dulles Town Center security officer asked Esposito to take off his mask – a request that eventually led to the father of three being escorted out of the mall by a Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office deputy.
The security guard, according to Esposito, said adults were forbidden from wearing masks in the mall. But to add insult to injury, the guard reportedly continued: “And it doesn’t help that it’s him.”
“He was referring directly to the fact that I was wearing an Obama mask,” Esposito said, adding he purchased the mask at a Dulles Town Center Halloween store.
Dulles Town Center officials would not comment directly about the alleged remark made by the security guard.
“Given the high-profile incidents that have occurred in public places in recent times, our policy requires that individuals are not permitted to wear a mask that conceals their entire face, ” said Wendy Morigi, a spokesperson for Dulles Town Center.
As a private business, Dulles Town Center has the right to refuse service to anyone, however, Esposito said he was unaware of the no masks for adults policy, especially on Halloween.
There were no signs anywhere in the mall warning adults of the policy, Esposito said.
“Obviously, if I had walked up to the door and seen that policy I would have removed my mask,” Esposito said.
Esposito said while puzzled about the request from the security guard, since there were many adults wearing masks on Halloween, he complied.
Morigi said other adults were asked to remove their masks that night.
“Obviously, because of the nature of Halloween, we did not enforce this security requirement among children, however, out of an abundance of caution, our security personnel did enforce this policy with adults and they were asked to remove any masks they were wearing,” she said.
The night soured for the family, the father, his wife and three children, ages 2, 4 and 7, decided to leave.
On their way out, Esposito said he was approached by a woman who asked for a picture with the faux Obama. He knew he couldn’t put the mask back on, so he held it to his face.
After the picture was taken, Esposito said he turned to find a Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office deputy standing near him, who allgedly grabbed his wrist, asked for his driver’s license and demanded to know where he was parked.
The deputy, he said, along with a mall security guard, escorted the family out of the mall, “holding my license hostage until we reached the exit of the mall.”
A Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said the deputy was called to help with the incident because Esposito was acting disorderly – a charge the Sterling resident disputes.
The spokesman said no incident report was filed on the situation and Esposito was not charged.
Still Esposito is convinced he was targeted by the mall security guard for his political preferences.
As the family exited the building, Esposito said the mall security guard yelled “maybe you should have chosen a different costume.”
“I wore my mask because I am proud of my president. People of all ages and ethnicities were saying ‘hi’ and asking for pictures. I left the Dulles Town Center mall feeling ashamed of the mask I had worn. I felt belittled and intimidated. The face of our president had brought so much backlash from authority that I was asked to leave,” Esposito said. “… I wonder … had I worn a Romney mask would it had made a difference? Because it certainly didn’t for the other six adults I saw in the mall wearing masks – none of whom were approached to remove their mask.”
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