Nassau woman who coughed in face of cancer patient gets 30 days in jail

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Fernandina Beach woman who coughed on and then threatened another shopper inside a Jacksonville Pier 1 Imports was sentenced to 30 days in jail Thursday, followed by six months of probation.

Additionally, Debra Jo Hunter was ordered to undergo anger management, a parenting skills class and pay a $500 fine.

Hunter in March agreed to plead guilty to a charge of misdemeanor assault. She was booked into the Duval County jail last year and released the same day after posting bond.

Witnesses identified Hunter as a woman seen in a viral video berating store staff and coughing on another woman who filmed the incident.

According to an incident report, the victim, Heather Sprague told police she was in the store about 2 p.m. that day when she saw Hunter scolding employees while trying to return an item she didn’t have in her possession.

While watching Hunter, Sprague took out her phone and began recording. Sprague’s video, which quickly went viral, then shows that Hunter responded with obscene gestures.

Sprague, who described herself as a brain tumor patient, was wearing a mask at the time. She filed a police report four days after the incident, saying she had not been feeling well since it happened.

Six witnesses spoke to the court on behalf of Hunter on Thursday, all of which were close friends and family. They stated Hunter’s actions do not represent who she is as a person.

Hunter was brought to tears when talking to the judge.

“My mistake will continue to affect all of us in some shape or form for the rest of our lives,” she said. “I often wonder what it would be like if every one of us as the flawed human beings we are had their worst moments reduced to a short video for all the world to see and judge.”

Hunter continued, “That video shows me worst possible light on my worst possible day and that’s not who I am, that’s not who I was before and that’s not who I am now. “And if I could take it all back I would take it all back.”

In the victim impact statement, Sprague says she was undergoing treatment at the time of the incident and told the judge what she saw Hunter doing in the store and that she felt she needed to intervene. She said on top of the fear of contracting COVID-19 that she felt Hunter knew exactly what she was doing.

“It was an episode that was rooted in privilege and entitlement,” Sprague said. “Seeing my mask, the defendant was calculated to attack me at my weakest point both physically and psychologically. I was stunned and fearful in the aftermath.”

The judge said he didn’t hear Hunter express significant regret about the impact it had on the victim, saying “it could’ve been a death sentence.”

The defense responded to that by saying she was very apologetic, offered a letter of apology but that she has been limited in what she can do by way of which the case unfolded.


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