A Florida woman who coughed in the face of a cancer patient is going to jail, officials say.
The state attorney’s office in Jacksonville, Florida says Debra Hunter, 52, has been sentenced to serve 30 days in prison and six months of probation, take anger management classes, undergo a mental health evaluation, and pay a $500 fine – along with the cost of the victim’s Covid test.
Ms Hunter’s tantrum was captured in a viral video early last year, as the United States was enduring the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Ms Hunter, who was not wearing a mask, was in the middle of berating employees at a Pier 1 store when another customer, Heather Sprague, began filming her.
Ms Hunter then directed her ire at Ms Sprague, giving her two middle fingers.
“I think I’ll get real close to you and cough on you then, how’s that?” she snapped. She then made good on that threat, walking up to Ms Sprague and coughing dramatically in her face.
Ms Sprague then posted the video on Facebook, where it was shared 36,000 times.
“I did not speak, react, or engage,” she wrote in the post. “Simply stood to document the behaviour. When bullies are faced with accountability they must acknowledge the unacceptability of their actions. Within 30 seconds of filming her tirade was done and she left the poor staff in peace.”
“I’m off to find a Covid test,” she added. “Thanks Karen*cough, cough*”
Unbeknownst to Ms Hunter, the woman she’d coughed on was being treated for brain cancer, making her especially vulnerable to the coronavirus. Her test, fortunately, came back negative.
She then reported the incident to the police.
“I worried for the health and safety of my children, and wondered how in the world I could possibly isolate to protect them – in a household of 12 – if I had been intentionally infected,” Ms Sprague, a mother of 10, said in court, AP News reported.
Ms Hunter complained that the video had made her and her family pariahs in their community, but the judge was not impressed.
“Her children didn’t create this problem and her husband didn’t, and she talked about how it changed her world and she was getting nastygrams on Facebook and things of that nature and they can’t go to their country club or wherever,” Duval County Court Judge James Ruth said at the sentencing, “But I have yet to see any expression, or a significant expression on her regret about the impact it had on the victim in this case!”
In her Facebook post, Ms Sprague went on to describe how Ms Hunter had abused the Pier 1 employees before she started filming.
“She was screaming at, swearing, insulting, and threatening the staff as she demanded to return an item she didn’t have with her, just a photo of the item on her phone,” she wrote. “The staff were professional and respectful. But they couldn’t return an item she didn’t actually have with her.”
“When she positioned herself so the clerks couldn’t exit the checkout area,” she continued, “I stood at a distance, pulled out my phone and wordlessly began filming. She immediately turned her attention away from the staff to me.”
“The video tells the rest of the story.”