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Police: Missouri man coughed on customers, scrawled COVID on cooler door

Police: Missouri man coughed on customers, scrawled COVID on cooler door

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Police have arrested a man who authorities say coughed on customers and wrote “COVID” on a cooler door in the town of Cuba, Missouri.

John Swaller, 33, was charged Tuesday with second-degree making a terrorist threat in Crawford County. The sheriff's office said he left the store Tuesday before officers arrived but was taken into custody later. He is jailed in lieu of $25,000 bail.

John Swaller

John Swaller was charged Tuesday with second-degree making a terrorist threat in Crawford County. 

An employee at a Dollar Tree store called authorities because the man had been “purposely coughing toward other customers," police said. The man also breathed on a cooler and used his finger to write the term COVID on the inside of the cooler, police said.

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The store was closed and sanitized. Cuba is about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis along Interstate 44.

Swaller’s father said his son doesn’t have COVID-19. “He’s healthy as a horse,” the father told the Post-Dispatch on Wednesday. When told about the allegations, the father said, “That’s a big lie.”

He declined to say more and asked not to be identified.

Cuba police Chief Doug Shelton said investigators don’t know if John Swaller has the coronavirus, but cautious officers used protective gear when they transported him to jail.

“I feel that it worries a lot of the residents of Cuba,” the chief said Wednesday. “It has angered a lot of people.”

Making a terrorist threat in the second degree is a felony in Missouri. Statutes say someone commits the crime when he or she “recklessly disregards the risk of causing the evacuation, quarantine or closure of any portion of a building” and “causes a false belief or fear that an incident has occurred or that a condition exists involving danger to life.”

It is punishable by up to four years in prison or one year in jail, and a $10,000 fine. Swaller, who lives on Highway KK in Cuba, has another pending criminal case in Crawford County on charges of drug possession and resisting arrest in Cuba in January. Online court records show he has convictions for burglary, theft and receiving stolen property.

This wasn’t the first odd Missouri crime to surface in recent days connected to COVID-19. Last week, police in Warren County arrested a man who posted a video of himself licking a row of merchandise at a Walmart and asking, “Who’s scared of coronavirus?”

Prosecutors in Warren County have charged Cody Lee Pfister, 26, of Warrenton, with making a terrorist threat in the second degree.

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