Pennsylvania Woman Charged With Terroristic Threats After Coughing Incident In Store

Pennsylvania prosecutors have charged Margaret Cirko, 35, who recently coughed and spit on produce at a store — resulting in Gerrity’s Supermarket throwing out $35,000 of fruits and vegetables. We are seeing the expanding use of terrorism charges against such pranks and displays. The Justice Department is now joining local prosecutors in pledging to bring more terrorism charges against pranksters and intentional spreaders of the virus. However, these cases raise concerns over such charges and the complexity of some of these cases.

Cirko has been charged with felony counts of terrorist threats, threats to use a “biological agent’ and criminal mischief. However, this was also described as a prank by someone with suspected mental illness and someone who had been a long problem in the neighborhood. Treating such cases as terrorism will certainly create a deterrent but it can also ignore the motivation as well as the mental state of these actors.

The bizarre conduct of Cirko raises significant question over her mental state. She reportedly entered the store, threatened staff and intentionally coughed and spit on produce. She then tried to steal a 12-pack of beer. She is not believed to have coronavirus.

My concern is that the intent behind these acts are often to fulfill a dare or a manifestation of mental illness, not terroristic motives. This remains fortunately quite rare. The question is whether we want to radically expand the scope of terrorism provisions.

32 thoughts on “Pennsylvania Woman Charged With Terroristic Threats After Coughing Incident In Store”

  1. If there was “intent” to cough or steal, you obviously are up to speed on what’s going on. I have mental issues and have been in a ward. But im not stupid. She knew what she was doing.

  2. i suggest that the next person who coughs or spits at a store or licks a handrail on the subway– gets a summary beating from onloookers. this would do wonders for deterrence.

    i ask you. if you saw a person urinating on produce in the store, would you bother to call security first or just clap them upside the head, immediately?

    it’s time for people to begin taking immediate corrective action on the miscreants of society, and for courts to recognize the common sense necessity of it.

    1. I feel like I saw a video of ppl in India getting a bamboo stick to the back or legs for not listening to the police and the govt., but could be wrong.

      1. serpentza has been posting those on youtube. good for the indians that they just give out a firm whack on the spot. that’s a lot simpler and more effective than some of the things we do.

  3. New York Times – Princeton, NJ – October 31, 1938.

    Radio personality and New York City resident Orson G. Welles was arrested and charged with terroristic threats following a radio broadcast falsely claiming that the Martians invaded Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, near Princeton.

    The broadcast created almost unbelievable scenes of terror in New York, New Jersey, the South and as far west as San Francisco between 8 and 9 o’clock last night.

    Attorney General Homer Cummings announced that the Department of Justice had launched a probe into the matter.

    Acting under emergency authority granted under the Soil Conservation & Domestic Allotment Act of 1936, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York issued an emergency order permanently suspending Mr. Welles’ radio broadcast and communication privileges.

    Mr. Welles has been charged with 17 counts of knowingly violating the Act’s soil conservation communication and anti-terror provisions. If convicted, Mr. Welles could be sentenced to 62 years in federal prison.

    1. It may be hard to get terrorism to stick as charged, but certainly food tampering should be considered. If a restaurant employee deliberately spit on food they would be charged with food tampering.

      1. I have seen super flimsy cases of terroristic threat “stick” in part because the stupid people who usually do something dumb to get charged with it, can’t afford a lawyer to fight it.

        this often gets tossed at racists who do something dumb, with glee, by prosecutors. so a simple brandishment of a firearm type charge, gets upped to a “terroristic hate crime” because somebody said the N word instead of the F word

  4. In these times where there are store fights over a pack of tissues, terrorist charge might be her preferred fate.

    1. excellent suggestion. a painful but not permanently injurious corporal punishment will be a good lesson learned at small expense to society, as compared to incarceration, which is not suitable.

      too bad we don’t have these laws in America but as the emptying out of jails due to virus concern shows, it’s high time to adopt them!

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caning_in_Singapore

  5. She is exhibiting cluster B impulse behavior. Allowing her own stresses to manifest in bizarre ways. No wherewithal of the consequences.

    Send her to the psych tank, 5150 hold…if she still acts up thereafter, 5250, for 14 more days.

    Mandatory mental health for 6 months, and a fine. If she cannot pay the fine, then community service, for 12 months.

    Terrorism charges is not necessary here.

    1. WW33 – have to disagree. 35k of veggies ruined? Untold number of people possibly infected? Terrorism is the right charge.

      1. Paul – that’s fine, disagreeing is fine.

        So, would you charge her with it, but then not convict her out it?

        1. Out it*** lol. Paul, I dl-ed Grammarly, and my Grammarly goes crazy on me now too. I can’t win on this phone, I get this awful clicking noise in the background of calls, like morse code. Sometimes the keyboard just goes. Hdjejfifjrnfjsjbfjfjdngahkwoeir, on it’s on volition. And I see the keys moving on its own. Right now, the word volition became “vomit on.” 3x with me correcting it 3x.

          Back in grad school, I would be sitting in class, and my mouse pointer would just move around on it’s own, clicking on files. My neighbor seat wise was shocked, floored, jaw to the ground.

          1. Sometimes, the high pitch “Errrrrer” noise or the morse code noise is so loud, in the background, ppl don’t want to talk to me on the phone, bc it hurts their ears.

            1. Paul – Okay, that fixes one issue…thanks a bunch. 👍. Now, the morse code/clicking noise on phone calls?

          2. It’s ‘of its own volition’, not “on it’s own volition”.You need a new phone it seems.

            1. Maybe just go back to an old flip phone. Solves all the issues. Won’t be able to use this site anymore though. 😉. PC only. Then I can be amazed by the magical mouse pointer.

        2. WW33 – depends on the statute. However, I would convict her of felony destruction of property and would recommend prison time.

          1. Hmmm,::nods:: I would go for a Class A misdemeanor, aggravated missy, if I was going to go for the jail time, plus fine. I guess that makes me a softt.

        3. Pennsylvania’s a M’Naghten Rule state. That might allow an insanity defense if she chose to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. In which case, an ensuing sentence of commitment until she was found not to be insane might keep her out of the grocery stores longer than if she were convicted on the terroristic threat count.

    2. yes sounds like some DSM profile i would not know what

      however i am not a big fan of calling evil, sickness. this incident shows evil…,. i prefer to call it evil and let God sort out the causes… after a summary beating on the spot, which is my restrospective recommendation

  6. Legit concerns on the expansion of terrorism charging doctrine, Jon. However Covid 19, while not war in the accepted sense, is indeed a war of a new dimension.

    My guess is the solution to such dilemmas will require an updated way in which fruit and vegetables are displayed in supermarkets. Whatever costs to stores incurred will be dwarfed by the possibilities of having to throw out 35 grand in inventory from time to time. There are certainly no shortage of inappropriate dares and mental illness to go around. Much like salad bar shields, this sort of produce display re-configuring, and the plastic shield design at registers, may have to be required by law.

    Federalism will be markedly changed by Covid 19, professor. I think we’re looking at a step toward the picket fence federalism that was so altered by the Reagan era doctrine of shrinking government, hands off, federalism. And this is being determined entirely by necessity.

    1. Paulie, I agree. The Libertarian doctrine of small government and minimal regulation is is going to look very quaint by the time this crisis is over.

  7. Cough, cough no big
    Banana fanna fo gift…
    Fee fi Moe moft..

    When a bitch that coughs is ugly as her..
    You lock her up and cough on her.
    Not in prison…not in cell.
    Slit her throat and she goes to Hell.

  8. Sometimes, as a teacher, you make a few a examples to set the tone for the rest of the class. Charging her and convicting her are two different things. She has a right to a trial.

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