State News

Fingers point in many directions after attack at Trump rally

Posted March 10, 2016 11:01 p.m. EST
Updated March 11, 2016 6:41 p.m. EST

— To Rakeem Jones, flanked on all sides by uniformed sheriff's deputies, it was more than just the shock of being ejected from a political rally for Donald Trump. The black man felt as if he was being transported back in time.

"It's not the America they portray on TV," the 26-year-old said Thursday, the day after he was wrestled to the ground by officers and punched in the face during the campaign event in Fayetteville.

But to friend Ronnie Rouse, who caught the incident on video, it was "totally American."

"This is the America everybody wants to ignore," the music producer told The Associated Press Thursday. "This is the America, when people tell you, 'Oh, racism doesn't exist.' It's here."

"We don't put up with this kind of action at any place, whether it's a rally or a public get-together or whatever," said Cumberland County Sheriff Earl "Moose" Butler.

He has asked his internal affairs investigators to review video from the event to see if disciplinary action should be taken against any deputy who witnessed the assault and didn't make an arrest on the spot. If necessary, that discipline could range from a letter of reprimand to termination, Butler said.

In Linden, Chrystal Janard was shocked to learn it was her neighbor, John Franklin McGraw, who threw the punch that sparked reaction across the national media.

Tony Janard said he was familiar with McGraw's fighting history – he had been a Golden Gloves boxer – but didn't expect it to surface at a political event.

"He's really, really good," he said. "He fought Floyd Patterson. He trained with Sonny Liston. He gave us, like, a scenario and a list of good fighters he used to train and spar with."

McGraw, 78, was charged Thursday with assault and battery and disorderly conduct after Butler saw Rouse's video. Authorities said that Jones was being escorted out of the rally after disrupting Trump’s speech when McGraw edged his way to the end of the row and hit Jones in the head and face as deputies were looking away.

"He hit me dead in my eye," Jones said.

Chrystal Janard said she knew McGraw was a Trump supporter, but she didn't recognize him in the video.

"I thought that was crazy," Janard said.

McGraw was unrepentant in an interview with Inside Edition. "Knocked the hell out of him," he said. "Yes, he deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him."

"Are you stupid?" Janard asked Friday. "This world is crazy as it is. To make a verbal threat to somebody and state that next time that we just might have to kill him is crazy. That's just unreal."

McGraw's comments in that interview earned him an additional charge of communicating threats and boosted his bond to $5,000.

McGraw made bond immediately. His next court appearance is scheduled for April 6.

Clashes between supporters and protesters have become a regular thing at Trump rallies, and while security experts say Trump has every right to quash dissent at events he's paying for, they say the Republican front-runner is playing with fire by not tamping down uncivil behavior and assault.

"I would go so far as to say that I find that abhorrent," security consultant Stan Kephart, a former police chief in Arizona and California, said of Trump's failure to call out his pugnacious followers. "To me, he's pressing the line. He's doing things that you would see a showman do."

Representatives of the Trump campaign declined comment to WRAL News about the event in Fayetteville, but the candidate has spoken fondly of the "good old days" when police could rough protesters up without fear of backlash.

"But today," he said Wednesday in Fayetteville, "they walk in and they put their hand up and they put the wrong finger in the air ... and they get away with murder because we've become weak."

During Thursday night's debate in Miami, Trump said some of the protesters at his rallies "are bad dudes and have done bad things." But he said he hopes he hasn't played a role in inciting the violence with some of his provocative language.

The role of law enforcement in these situations is not simple.

"We respect folks' First Amendment rights to free speech. We're not there to police the protesters," said Robert K. Hoback, a spokesman for the Secret Service, commenting on reports that Secret Service agents escorted protesters out of a recent Trump event in Georgia. He said they only act on threats to the "protectee."

Crowd control expert Paul Wertheimer, who has been keeping track of Trump events, said he hasn't seen any instances where law enforcement or private security have overstepped. But he thinks the candidate should show more tolerance for protest.

"I think he, in general, knows what he's doing, and he does this intentionally to stir up the crowd," said Wertheimer, head of Los Angeles-based Crowd Management Strategies.

Kephart, the ex-police chief, agrees that Trump should be a little more willing to take the boos and heckling. What he shouldn't tolerate, he said, is violence.

"If you don't say anything, you're assenting to it. You're saying it's OK," he said.