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A Florida woman has been sentenced to 30 days behind bars after pleading guilty to deliberately coughing in a cancer patient’s face at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in an interaction caught on video last year.
Debra Jo Hunter, 53, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault in the June 25 incident in a Pier 1 store at the St. Johns Town Center in Jacksonville, where she berated store employees and coughed on a woman who began filming the incident, WJXT, an independent TV station in Jacksonville reported.
According to The New York Times, a Jacksonville judge sentenced her to 30 days in jail, which cited court records.
Hunter is also required to serve six months probation and be subject to a mental health evaluation and anger management, according to an email obtained by the Associated Press.
The victim, Heather Sprague, told authorities at the time that she began filming as a mask-less Hunter berated store staff for not allowing her to return an item she didn’t have in her possession, the TV station reported.
Sprague, who described herself as a brain tumor patient and was wearing a mask, began recording the heated encounter – prompting Hunter, 53, to make obscene gestures toward her.
(Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office)
“I think I’ll get really close to you and cough on you then. How’s that?” Hunter, who was not wearing a mask, is heard saying before she is seen coughing on the woman and then walking out of the store with her children.
Sprague later filed a police report, saying she began feeling ill following the incident.
Before sentencing, Hunter — who was facing up to 60 days in the slammer – said she was not seeking “mercy,” but urged the judge to take into consideration the backlash she’s faced since the viral episode.
In a three-page letter, she said her kids “continue to suffer indignities caused by my mistake […] embarrassed, chastised and mocked by both their peers as well as adults. Each of my three children has lost nearly every friend they had,” First Coast News reported.
She claimed her family had experienced several traumatic events in the months leading up to the incident, including a near-fatal boat accident and a house fire that destroyed their home. On the day of the incident at Pier 1, she wrote: “My daughter was alarmed when she noticed a stranger recording the three of us with her phone.
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“Admittedly I was immediately infuriated and demanded this customer to stop filming my kids. In the heat of the moment, I overreacted in an overprotective manner which ultimately led to my retaliation on this stranger, the victim,” she wrote.
“And,” she added, “that highly regrettable, split-second, knee-jerk reaction has cost my family dearly.”
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