Cumberland County sheriff’s investigators considered charging Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump with inciting a riot at his Fayetteville rally, but decided late Monday that Trump’s comments didn’t constitute a crime.
Ronnie Mitchell, an attorney for the department, said in a news release Monday afternoon that investigators were probing an incident last week in which a protester was punched in the face with an elbow while being escorted out of the Trump event.
John Franklin McGraw, 78, of Linden, has been charged with assault, disorderly conduct and communicating threats. Investigators say video shows McGraw punching the protester.
“We are continuing to look at the totality of these circumstances, including any additional charges against Mr. McGraw, including the potential of whether there was conduct on the part of Mr. Trump or the Trump campaign which rose to the level of inciting a riot, and including the actions or inactions of our deputies,” Mitchell said in the release.
But Monday evening, a sheriff’s department spokesman said that after reviewing the incident, “the evidence does not meet the requisites of the law” regarding riots.
North Carolina riot law says that “any person who willfully incites or urges another to engage in a riot, so that as a result of such inciting or urging a riot occurs or a clear and present danger of a riot is created, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.”
The 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.”
During the Fayetteville event, Trump repeatedly paused his speech during interruptions from protesters and called on security officers to “get ’em out.”
“In the good old days, this doesn’t happen because they used to treat them very, very rough,” Trump said during one interruption. “And when they protested once, you know, they would not do it again so easily. But today, they walk in and they put their hand up, and they put the wrong finger up in the air at everybody, and they get away with murder because we’ve become weak.”
McGraw is due in court on April 6, and Trump said Sunday that he’s considering helping McGraw with legal expenses. A video circulated online shows McGraw saying that he doesn’t regret punching the protester and that “the next time we see him, we might have to kill him.”
Cumberland Sheriff Earl “Moose” Butler issued a statement after McGraw’s arrest last week. “Regardless of political affiliation, speech, race, national origin, color, gender, bad reputation, prior acts or political demonstration, no other citizen has the right to assault another person or to act in such a way as this defendant did,” said Butler, who is a Democrat.
At a rally in Hickory Monday morning, Trump said claims that his events provoke violence are inaccurate.
“You know how many people have been hurt at our rallies?” he said. “I think like basically none, other than I guess maybe somebody got hit once, but there’s no violence.”