TAMPA, Fla. – A Florida Dunkin’ employee accused of fatally punching a customer who used a racial slur against him pleaded guilty to felony battery and was sentenced to two years of house arrest.
A Tampa judge on Monday also ordered Corey Pujols, 27, to complete 200 hours of community service and attend an anger management course.
Vonelle Cook was irate when he entered the Dunkin' store last May and began yelling about customer service, police and prosecutors said. When Pujols, who is Black, asked him to leave, Cook called him a racial slur, and Pujols punched him.
Cook, 77, fell to the floor and knocked his head. He died three days later.
Pujols was initially charged with manslaughter.
In agreeing to a plea deal, prosecutors considered the “totality of the circumstances,” including Pujols’ youth, his lack of criminal history and the fact that he did not intend to cause Cook’s death, Grayson Kamm, a spokesman for Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, told the Tampa Bay Times. He said they also considered the behavior of Cook and what he said.
“Two of the primary factors were the aggressive approach the victim took toward the defendant and everyone working with the defendant, and that the victim repeatedly used possibly the most aggressive and offensive term in the English language,” Kamm told the newspaper.
Darrin Johnson, an attorney for Pujols, declined to comment after the hearing.
According to court records, Cook was a regular customer who tried to order coffee at the drive-thru on May 4. But the employees had trouble hearing him, and he began berating them for their poor customer service. He was asked to leave, but he parked his car and went inside the store.
When Cook appeared inside the store, Pujols asked a coworker to call police. Prosecutors said Cook began arguing with Pujols. Once Cook said the racial slur, Pujols walked around the counter and told him not to say that again. When he repeated it, Pujols hit him in the jaw and Cook fell to the floor.
An autopsy said he suffered a skull fracture and brain contusions.
Court records show Cook was a registered sex offender. No one from Cook’s family spoke at Monday’s hearing.