Local News

Cumberland authorities decline to charge Trump after rally violence

Posted March 14, 2016 6:03 p.m. EDT
Updated March 14, 2016 7:29 p.m. EDT

— The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office decided late Monday not to charge Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump after a protester was punched during a Trump rally in Fayetteville last week.

Deputies were leading the demonstrator out of Crown Coliseum when a man punched the protester in the face. John Franklin McGraw, 78, of Linden, was later charged with assault and battery, disorderly conduct and communicating threats in the case.

Ronnie Mitchell, the attorney for the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, said Monday that, during a review of video evidence in the case, investigators took note of Trump making comments during the removal of several protesters at the event.

"In the good old days, this doesn't happen because they used to be treated very, very rough," Trump said.

"People are responsible for what they do and what they say. Part of our investigation has been looking into those issues," Mitchell said.

Investigators considered filing a charge of inciting a riot against Trump or his campaign.

North Carolina law defines a riot as "a public disturbance involving an assemblage of three or more persons which by disorderly and violent conduct, or the imminent threat of disorderly and violent conduct, results in injury or damage to persons or property or creates a clear and present danger of injury or damage to persons or property." Inciting a riot is a misdemeanor unless the disturbance causes serious injury or more than $1,500 in property damage, when it becomes a felony.

By Monday night, investigators determined that "the evidence does not meet the requisites of the law as established under the relevant North Carolina statute and case law to support a conviction of the crime of inciting a riot," sheriff's office spokesman Sean Swain said in a statement.

The Fayetteville incident preceded an even uglier scene at a weekend Trump rally in Chicago. He canceled an event planned for Friday night after supporters and protesters who packed a hall at the University of Illinois at Chicago clashed.

Trump on Monday denied suggestions that he incites or even condones violence at his rallies, calling the events "love fests."

"We're not angry people. We're good people," he said of his supporters. "We're just tired of a government that is run incompetently."

His campaign blamed the protesters for any violence.

"The arena was rented for a private event, paid for by the campaign, and these people attended with the intent to cause trouble," campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in a statement. "They were only there to agitate and anger the crowd. It is the protestors and agitators who are in violation, not Mr. Trump or the campaign."

Cumberland County investigators also are trying to determine if any deputy violated department policy in how the events during the rally were handled.