A black manager at a Dunkin’ store in Tampa, Florida, who fatally punched a 77-year-old white customer last year after repeatedly using a racial slur while addressing him was sentenced this week to two years of house arrest, prosecutors said. .
The employee, Corey Pujols, originally charged with manslaughter, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of assault and battery under a plea deal that will see him avoid jail time. Under the sentence handed down Monday by Judge Christine Marlewski of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court, Mr. Pujols, 27, will be on probation for three years after completing his house arrest. He must also complete 200 hours of community service and take anger management classes.
The fatal confrontation took place on May 4, when Vonelle Cook, a regular at the store, began to berate staff members after being upset about the service he received at the store’s drive-thru window, authorities said.
After being repeatedly asked to leave, Mr. Cook parked and entered the store, while Mr. Pujols told another store employee to call the police, prosecutors said. The pair were arguing, separated by a counter. Then Mr. Cook used a racial slur, causing Mr. Pujols to walk through a swinging door and come face-to-face with Mr. Cook, prosecutors said.
Mr. Pujols “warned the victim not to repeat this again,” prosecutors said. “The victim repeated the racial slur and Pujols immediately punched him in the jaw causing the victim to fall and hit his head.”
Mr. Cook died three days later.
According to a police report, Mr Cook never touched or attempted to hit Mr Pujols.
The steps to join Mr. Pujols and his lawyer Wednesday evening did not succeed immediately.
In a statement Wednesday, Hillsborough County District Attorney Andrew Warren said the plea deal “holds the defendant accountable while considering the totality of the circumstances – the aggressive approach and despicable racial slurs used by the victim, as well as the age of the accused. , absence of a criminal record and absence of intention to cause the death of the victim.
Plus, Warren said, it would have been difficult to win at trial, given Florida’s legal landscape.
“If you can shoot someone for throwing popcorn at you under Florida’s flawed Stand Your Ground law,” Warren said, referring to a recent case, “it would be hard to convince a jury that a person is not allowed to hit someone who incited a confrontation by barging into their business and barking the most aggressive and incendiary term in the English language in their face.
Court records indicate that Mr Cook was a registered sex offender who had served time in prison after being convicted of several counts, including child abuse, possession of child pornography and sexual activity with minors. This followed a 2006 arrest in which thousands of images and videos of teenage boys and men having sex were found in a Tampa home owned by Mr Cook.
Despite Mr Cook’s legal troubles, his younger brother, Kenneth Cook, said the plea deal was not justice. His brother had mobility issues and was a frail old man who looked forward to his cup of coffee at the Dunkin’ store every day, Mr Cook, 73, said in a telephone interview. He said he told prosecutors he would have liked to see Mr Pujols given a five-year prison sentence and five years probation.
“I thought it was good business to take a man’s life,” he said.
Kirsten Noyes contributed report.