Florida Woman Who Purposely Coughed in Pier 1 Shopper’s Face Is Sentenced to 30 Days in Jail

This happened at a time when authorities were regularly responding to heated confrontations over masks and other coronavirus mandates

Debra Hunter went viral last year when a video of her coughing on another woman circulated online. Heather Sprague was shopping at Pier 1 in Jacksonville, Florida when she saw Debra Hunter in a heated exchange with an employee over a return, The New York Times reported.

 After 15 minutes, Heather began filming the incident, which angered Debra. Debra then walked up and coughed on Heather. “I think I’ll get real close to you and cough on you, then, how’s that?” Debra Hunter said in the cellphone footage before coughing.

Even though Sprague was wearing a mask, Hunter left spittle on her face, the Times wrote. According to court records, Hunter has been sentenced to 30 days in jail. She was also sentenced to six months of probation, ordered to pay a $500 fine, ordered to take an anger-management class, and was required to undergo a mental health evaluation.

This incident came at a time when authorities were regularly responding to heated confrontations over masks and other coronavirus mandates. It also came just months after Sprague underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor and was still in the process of undergoing treatment. 

Afterward, she struggled to find a COVID-19 test but eventually tested negative. Even so, she was still affected by the events that occurred. “The defendant’s act of coughing in my face at the height of a pandemic was an act that was calculated to attack me at my weakest point, physically and psychologically. I was stunned in the moment and increasingly fearful in the aftermath,” Sprague stated in footage of the online sentencing.

Hunter said that her poor decision has greatly affected her family. “The reality is that my family has been permanently scarred. And although that scar might fade over time, it will never completely disappear," she said. "My kids should not have to pay the price for my mistake. I can overcome the ostracization. I deserve it. My children do not.”

She said her children have lost almost all their friends, and she feels like a pariah in her community. She added that she received hundreds of texts, emails, calls, letters and social media threats.

Even so, Judge James A. Ruth pointed out that Hunter expressed more concern over her family than over Sprague.

“She talked about how it changed her world and, you know, she’s getting the nastygrams on Facebook and things of that nature, and they can’t go to the country club or wherever, and can’t play soccer. I get that," he said. "But I’ve yet to see any expression — or a significant expression — on her regret about the impact it had on the victim in this case.”

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