A Trenton teen was arrested by West Windsor Police on April 3 after purposely coughing on a woman during a verbal altercation at Wegmans in the Nassau Park Shopping Center in West Windsor on April 3. The 16-year-old female was charged with harassment and obstruction of justice.
Police said that the victim, a 52-year-old woman from Monmouth Junction, was in the checkout line at about 12:23 p.m. and asked the teen, who was in back of her in line, to move away from her because she was too close.
The girl did not comply and responded with an attitude, police said. She then removed the face mask she was wearing and coughed at the victim.
Meanwhile, Officer Carlos Abade, who was working a security detail outside the store, was approached by an employee who informed him about what was happening.
The officer went into the store and met with the victim, and then spoke with the teen and her 36-year-old mother.
According to Officer Abade, the mother indicated that they were working for the Instacart grocery delivery service and waiting to pay for the grocery order. The mother said that while in line, she switched places with her daughter so they would not block the aisle behind them.
The mother claimed that the victim began swinging her arm in their direction and told her daughter that she was too close to her. The mother and her daughter claimed they had been behind their designated lines during the verbal altercation and not near the victim.
The mother continued the verbal exchange with the victim because she didn’t want the victim speaking to her daughter in the manner she was.
An employee who had witnessed the incident told Officer Abade that the girl was standing in front of her cart and was not an appropriate distance from the victim. He verified that while the three were arguing, the teen pulled her face mask down, walked closer to the victim and coughed towards the victim. She then told the victim that she had coronavirus.
Det. Sgt. Jeffrey Lai who had responded to the scene, took over the investigation, at which point the teen became difficult and uncooperative. He signed juvenile petitions against the 16-year-old for harassment and obstruction of justice pending a future Mercer County Family Court Appearance
Following the arrest, Chief Robert Garofalo said the department has “zero tolerance for acts such as this.”
“The WWPD will continue to bring those to justice who choose to victimize others,” the chief said. “Supermarkets such as Wegmans have been deemed essential by the State of New Jersey and the WWPD will use its full resources to protect their staff and the general public during this time of need.”