A Florida woman who pled guilty to misdemeanor assault after she was caught on video deliberately coughing on a cancer patient in a Jacksonville store last year, asked a judge to consider the backlash she’s received after the incident went viral, First Coast News reports.
Debra Hunter said her children “continue to suffer indignities caused by my mistake […] embarrassed, chastised and mocked by both their peers as well as adults. Each of my three children have lost nearly every friend they had.”
In a letter to Duval County Judge Ruth, Hunter said she was not seeking “mercy” but instead wanted him to understand what led up to the incident and the intensity of the backlash she and her family endured.
Hunter said that stressful life circumstances caused her to act out, and that her family is enduring intense backlash as a result.
“My daughter was alarmed when she noticed a stranger recording the three of us with her phone. Admittedly I was immediately infuriated and demanded this customer to stop filming my kids,” Hunter wrote. “In the heat of the moment, I over reacted in an over protective manner which ultimately led to my retaliation on this stranger, the victim. And that highly regrettable, split second, knee jerk reaction has cost my family dearly.”
According to First Coast News, Hunter submitted to the court 23 pages of hate mail she’s received since the video went viral.
The incident took place on June 25 at Pier 1 at the St. Johns Town Center. In the video, a maskless Hunter can be see berating store staff and coughing on a woman who filmed the incident.
The victim, Heather Sprague, told police she saw Hunter berating employees while trying to return an item she didn’t have in her possession. Sprague took out her phone and began recording, prompting Hunter to respond with obscene gestures.
“I think I’ll get really close to you and cough on you then,” Hunter says in the video. “How’s that?”
Hunter can then be seen coughing on Sprague before walking out of the store.
“I went from ‘that mom’ to ‘that woman,'” Hunter told the judge.
“I realize this all may sound like a bad movie script,” she continued. “I assure you, I never thought I would be playing a starring role in a social media feeding frenzy.”
“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,” she added.
Hunter also gave the judge letters of support from friends who vouched for her good character, one saying that the video “was highly edited and did not show the entire story.”
Another wrote that she was “not surprised” when she saw the video, because in the days before the incident, Hunter “had reached a level of negativity and drama that would be characterized as toxic.”
Hunter told the judge that she often wonders “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.”
Her next hearing is scheduled for next month. She faces up to 60 days in jail.