Florida woman who coughed in face of cancer patient pleads guilty, could face jail time

Debra Jo Hunter could get up to 60 days in jail

RAW: Viral video: Mother of 10 says she was coughed on at Jacksonville Pier One
RAW: Viral video: Mother of 10 says she was coughed on at Jacksonville Pier One (Courtesy of Heather Sprague/Facebook)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Nassau County woman who faced a criminal charge after she was accused of deliberately coughing on and then threatening another shopper inside a Jacksonville store last year pleaded guilty Monday, News 6 partner News4Jax reported.

Debra Jo Hunter, of Fernandina Beach, was booked into the Duval County jail last year and charged with misdemeanor assault, according to jail records. She was released the same day after posting bond.

[TRENDING: Police fire pepper balls at Fla. spring breakers | Buc-ee’s opens in Daytona Beach | Data: AstraZeneca effective for all ages]

Hunter’s guilty plea was entered Monday after Judge James Ruth told her that if she wasn’t ready to enter a plea, he was ready to pick a jury. Hunter agreed to plead guilty on two previous hearings, but the judge rejected them because it didn’t involve jail time.

Hunter could get up to 60 days in jail. Her sentencing hearing is set for Wednesday.

Warning: Video contains graphic content. Viewer discretion is advised.

Yesterday I learned firsthand the power of conscientious bystanders. It took 30 seconds to end 15 minutes of aggressive...

Posted by Heather Reed Sprague on Thursday, June 25, 2020

The charges stem from a June 25, 2020 incident at Pier 1 at the St. Johns Town Center. 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.

“I think I’ll get really close to you and cough on you then,” Hunter can be heard saying. “How’s that?”

Hunter can then be seen coughing on Sprague before walking out of the store with her children in tow.

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.


Use the form below to sign up for the ClickOrlando.com Strange Florida newsletter, sent every Friday.