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'Pier 1 Cougher' to be sentenced Wednesday for COVID-era assault

Debra Hunter pleaded guilty Monday to assault charges stemming from the viral video of her coughing in the face of a cancer patient last summer.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A woman accused of coughing in the face of a cancer patient in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic pleaded guilty Monday and faces sentencing for the misdemeanor assault on Wednesday.

Debra Hunter was arrested last June after she deliberately – and on video – coughed on a patron who was recording Hunter's squabble with store employees. 

The video went viral and Hunter soon became known as “The Pier 1 Cougher.”

RELATED: Attorney for alleged Pier One cougher asks for case to be pushed back

Hunter and prosecutors presented negotiated pleas to County Judge James Ruth three times -- none of which involved jail time -- but Ruth refused to accept them. Rejecting a negotiated plea is unusual in any case, but particularly in a low-level offense like Hunter's misdemeanor assault charge.

Hunter's attorney, Chris Carson, says he will present mitigating evidence about the online backlash his client endured after the video went viral. She faces up to 60 days in jail and a fine of $500.

Ruth is scheduled to sentence Hunter Wednesday morning at 10:30.

Credit: Jacksonville Sheriff's Office
Debra Hunter is accused of assault after she was seen on cellphone video coughing on another woman at a Pier 1 store.
Credit: First Coast News

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