TAMPA (WFLA) – State prosecutors are moving forward with a manslaughter case against a Dunkin’ employee who punched an elderly man in response to being called a racial slur.
“The victim’s use of racial slurs was highly inflammatory,” Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said in a statement Friday. “Inflammatory speech alone, however, does not justify violence. Although the victim’s speech was reprehensible, it was legal.”
Court records show 27-year-old Corey Pujols has entered a written plea of not guilty and he is requesting a jury trial.
“While we find the victim’s words repulsive, public safety requires holding Pujols accountable for his actions,” Warren said. “As in any case, we will consider the victim’s incendiary conduct and other mitigating evidence, as well as any evidentiary and legal issues, in determining the appropriate outcome.”
Prosecutors say the altercation on May 4 at a Dunkin’ on South 50th Street in Tampa began when the victim, a regular customer at that store, started berating staff after becoming upset with the service provided to him in the drive-thru.
When the elderly man entered the store, prosecutors say Pujols – the on-duty manager at the time – told his co-workers to call police.
According to court documents, Pujols punched the victim in the jaw after he twice called him the N-word. The punch caused the victim to fall and hit his head. He died three days later from his injuries.
“The concern is for the family and the loved ones of the victim, but at the same time there has to be a level of concern for this young man,” said criminal defense attorney Catherine Henry, who is not involved in this court case.
From an initial review of the facts of the case, Henry said there “doesn’t seem to be a self-defense angle,” but she added that could change based on what the attorneys for Pujols learn during discovery.
Henry told 8 On Your Side part of her defense strategy would point out there are legal protections for workers from employment discrimination and harassment, but when it is a customer “rising it to the level of a racial slur, what is his remedy? It’s not fair.”
“Racism and the use of racial slurs have no place in our community,” Warren said in his statement. “Our office will continue to work with stakeholders all across Tampa Bay to combat bigotry and prejudice.”
Henry said a key piece of evidence for the state will be the video from a store camera that captured the punch to the victim’s jaw.
She told 8 On Your Side in the current political and social climate, the outcome of this case could hinge on jury selection.
“You want a juror who is not just going to look at the black and white letter of the law,” Henry said. “You want someone who is going to be more open minded.”
Jail records show Pujols was released on May 13 after posting his $15,000 bond.
His attorneys did not respond to 8 On Your Side’s request for comment Friday evening.