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NJ man charged with terrorism for coughing on grocery worker, claiming coronavirus

George Falcone (Office of The Attorney General New Jersey/Released)
March 25, 2020

A New Jersey man is facing third-degree terror charges after he coughed on a grocery store and then claimed to have coronavirus.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy described the incident during a press briefing Tuesday and alluded to the man as a “knucklehead.” The New Jersey Attorney General’s office identified the man charged as George Falcone of Freehold, New Jersey.

“Charges are being brought against a defendant who got into a dispute with an employee of Wegman’s, coughed on the woman and told her after doing so that he had coronavirus,” Murphy said, detailing the event. “He then refused to cooperate with the police, to either give them his name or his driver’s license for more than 40 minutes. A summons is being issued for terroristic threats, harassment and obstruction.”

Murphy went on to say that while the Falcone’s actions did not violate any portion of his executive orders regarding the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, he did describe the man’s actions as “non-compliant” and “egregious.”

“These are extremely difficult times in which all of us are called upon to be considerate of each other— not to engage in intimidation and spread fear, as alleged in this case,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said of the incident. “We must do everything we can to deter this type of conduct and any similar conduct that harms others during this emergency. Just as we are cracking down on bias offenses and those who use the pandemic to fuel hatred and prejudice, we vow to respond swiftly and strongly whenever someone commits a criminal offense that uses the coronavirus to generate panic or discord.”

Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

Similar incidents of joking about the spread of coronavirus have also resulted in greater concern later on.

A Chicago man was charged over the weekend with two felony counts of aggravated battery to a peace officer and several misdemeanor charges, including battery DUI and resisting arrest, after claiming he had coronavirus and coughing on a Chicago police officer, Fox 5 reported. Police responded to a car crash incident after the man, Anthony Ponzi, 21, reportedly crashed his car and became aggressive with another driver involved.

Ponzi was taken to a nearby hospital where he later said he did not have coronavirus.

Police in Purcellville, Virginia also recently began an investigation after teenagers filmed themselves coughing all over produce at a supermarket and posted the video to social media, Fox 5 reported. The grocery store reportedly removed the items and took other measures to the health of its patrons, Purcellville police said in a Facebook post.

The NBA suspended its season early on in March after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. Prior to his positive test results, Gobert had a cough and purposefully touched several microphones as a joke while reportedly downplaying the virus and the severity of his cough.