Tampa Dunkin’ Employee Facing House Arrest for Felony Battery After Customer Uses Racial Slur

March 16, 2022 Criminal Defense, Violent Crimes

Last May, 27-year-old Corey Pujols was charged with manslaughter. The charge arose after he fatally punched a customer while working as a manager at a Tampa Dunkin’. Pujols initially pled not guilty but agreed to change his plea to guilty of the lesser charge of felony battery under a plea deal that would allow him to avoid jail time. On March 7, Judge Christine Marlewski of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court sentenced Pujols to two years of house arrest, 200 hours of community service, and to complete an anger management course. The result of this case floored the public on a national scale – leading many people to wonder, how did an event that led to a fatality result in the punishment of house arrest?

The Details

The altercation occurred when Dunkin’ regular, 77-year-old Vonelle Clark, berated workers about the service he received while at the store’s drive-through window. Clark was ordered to leave multiple times by employees but decided to park his vehicle and continue the quarrel inside the shop. Pujols again told Clark to leave and instructed another employee to call the police. The conflict between Pujols and Clark continued, and Clark called Pujols a racial slur. As a result, Pujols walked out from behind the counter and told Clark not to use the slur again. When Clark repeated the slur, Pujols immediately punched him in the jaw, causing Clark to fall to the floor and hit his head.  Pujols did not contend that Cook ever tried to physically touch him. Cook was taken to the hospital and succumbed to his injuries as a result of the incident three days later.

Felony Battery

Under Section 784.041 of the Florida Statutes, a person commits felony battery if he or she actually and intentionally touches or strikes another person against the will of another and causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement. Felony battery is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, and five years of probation.  Felony battery is a level 6 offense on Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code, and if there are no adequate grounds for a downward departure, the judge must deliver a sentence of 19-36 months in prison for the offense but is permitted to sentence the offender to the maximum five years in prison.

 In this instance, Judge Marlewski employed a downward departure because of the mitigating circumstances in the case, such as the fact that Clark called Pujols a racial slur. Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren expanded on what mitigating circumstances were considered, stating that the plea deal, which allowed Pujols to avoid jail time, “holds the defendant accountable while considering the totality of the circumstances – the aggressive approach and despicable racial slur used by the victim, along with the defendant’s age, lack of criminal record, and lack of intent to cause the victim’s death.”

To read more about the kinds of battery in Florida, including misdemeanor battery, aggravated battery, and felony battery, visit our page here. Further, to read more about how offenses are ranked under Florida’s Criminal Punishment code, visit our page here.

Was Justice Served?

Interestingly, Mr. Warren expressed that the case would have been difficult to win at trial. He stated,

“If you can shoot someone for throwing popcorn at you under Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, it would be hard to convince a jury that a person’s not allowed to hit someone who instigated a confrontation by storming into their business and barking the most aggressive and inflammatory term in the English language in their face.”

Mr. Warren’s comment references a 2014 case where a retired Florida police captain, Curtis Reeves, fatally shot a man who tossed popcorn at him after they got into an argument over the use of a cell phone in the theater. The trial began in mid-February due to years of delay after Reeves argued that he was legally protected under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

This instance was not the first time Cook had a run-in with law enforcement, as court records indicate he had served prison time for charges including child abuse, possession of child pornography, sexual activity with minors, and was currently a registered sex offender. Cook’s younger brother, Kenneth Cook, disagreed with the outcome of the case. He said that his brother was a frail, elderly man who found joy in getting coffee every day from that Dunkin’, and that Pujols should have received the maximum of five years in prison and five years’ probation.

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one has been charged with felony battery in Florida, contact a knowledgeable Tallahassee criminal defense attorney to consult with and advise you on your options. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience litigating in the state of Florida and will zealously advocate on your behalf. Contact us today at (850) 681 – 7777 or send an online message today to discuss your legal matter during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our team.

Written by Sarah Kamide

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