SUPERIOR COURT — A 73-year-old Sparta man accused of a belligerent outburst at Stop & Shop where he joked about COVID-19 and refused to wear a face mask blames the store employees who “need to be better trained on how to deal with elderly people.”


Wadim Sakiewicz also claimed during a virtual court hearing Thursday with Judge Louis Sceusi that he doesn’t have a television at home and “wasn’t aware” that Gov. Phil Murphy had ordered residents to wear facial coverings in stores in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.


The state, represented by Assistant Prosecutor Sahil Kabse, filed a motion to detain Sakiewicz following his arrest on April 17 in Sparta. Following the roughly half hour hearing, Sceusi ordered Sakiewicz detained pending trial after finding the incidents involved to be “concerning.”


Sceusi said that while the incident began as a minor infraction with Sakiewicz failing to wear a mask inside the grocery store on April 15, Sakiewicz didn’t argue the issue, but instead, told employees he had the virus and coughed and spit on them. Additionally, he got violent and threatened to have the store manager fired.


Murphy announced on April 8 that all employees and customers of essential businesses were required to wear masks or other facial coverings.


“This is a situation where all of us are under a tremendous amount of stress to make sure this pandemic doesn’t spread,” Sceusi said. “Everyone has the right to believe that his fellow citizen is following the rules to make sure that they don’t get sick or spread a disease.”


Sakiewicz is also accused of refusing to follow police commands while attempting to be placed under arrest at his home on April 17. While flailing his legs and yelling, Sakiewicz is accused of spitting toward an officer and biting him in the hand. While at police headquarters, Sakiewicz is accused of spitting and urinating in the holding cell.


Kabse argued Thursday that Sakiewicz “has spit in the face of the governor’s orders and all the citizens of New Jersey.”


“He has demonstrated a complete disregard for his own safety but also the safety of others and his wanton disrespect of what the laws are,” Kabse said. “This conduct speaks volumes.”


Kabse said the majority of the incident is on video, showing Sakiewicz verbally assaulting and berating a store employee who was “only doing her job, who has to come to work to earn a paycheck and be potentially exposed to this virus.”


Daniel Palazzo, Sakiewicz’s attorney, argued that it would be detrimental and potentially deadly to keep the 73-year-old in the Morris County Jail, where several inmates and employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Kabse stated that since Sakiewicz is being kept isolated in the jail and is “being forced” to social distance, he would be safer.


Palazzo argued that Sakiewicz has strong ties to the community, is married with a child and owns his own business.


Sakiewicz has not been tested for COVID-19, but stated Thursday he wanted to be checked “to see if I am a carrier.”


He also added that the “whole so-called conflict” in the Stop & Shop “could have been resolved within minutes if the people who were in contact with me were better trained how to deal with elderly people and with their needs.”


Sakiewicz’s next court date is scheduled for May 18. Sakiewicz, who will turn 74 on May 18, announced at the end of the hearing Thursday, “That’s my birthday, I’ll be 94. Thank you for the gift.”


Lori Comstock can also be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.