A New Jersey man has been charged with making terroristic threats after allegedly coughing in the direction of a local supermarket employee and claiming he suffered from the coronavirus. The state's attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, announced the charges against George Falcone on Tuesday.
Here's how his office explains what happened at a Wegmans supermarket on Sunday evening:
"The employee was concerned that Falcone was standing too close to her and an open display of prepared foods, so she requested that he step back as she covered the food. Instead, Falcone allegedly stepped forward to within 3 feet of her, leaned toward her, and purposely coughed. He allegedly laughed and said he was infected with the coronavirus. Falcone subsequently told two other employees they are lucky to have jobs."
In addition to the third-degree terrorist threats charge, the attorney general's office has also accused Falcone, 50, of harassment and obstructing law or other governmental functions. All told, Grewal says the man now faces the possibility of more than six years in state prison and thousands of dollars in fines.
"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," Grewal said in a statement. "We must do everything we can to deter this type of conduct and any similar conduct that harms others during this emergency."
Falcone denied the allegations in a Facebook message to Reuters on Tuesday: "Didn't cough on anyone and never mentioned corona."
As of Tuesday afternoon, New Jersey's health authorities had reported more than 3,600 confirmed cases of the virus and at least 44 deaths statewide. In a bid to slow its spread, the state has ordered a temporary halt to elective surgeries and shuttered the operations of all retail businesses deemed to be nonessential.
Grocery stores such as Wegmans are exempt from the order.
"There are knuckleheads out there," Gov. Phil Murphy told a news conference Tuesday. "We see them, and we are enforcing behavior."