Trump rally attendee charged with assault

Story highlights

  • John McGraw, 78, was questioned and arrested by the Cumberland County Sherriff's Office
  • The incident was captured on video at a Donald Trump rally Wednesday

(CNN)A man who attended Donald Trump's rally in North Carolina was arrested and charged Thursday after multiple videos posted online appear to show him punching a protester in the face and later saying, "The next time we see him, we might have to kill him."

John McGraw, 78, was questioned and arrested by the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office in connection with the incident after police identified him as the man in the video, public information officer Sgt. Sean Swain told CNN. He was charged with assault, disorderly conduct and communicating threats.
    McGraw appears in the video to punch a black protester in the face as he was being escorted out of the venue with a group of protesters by a half-dozen police officers. The incident occurred during Trump's rally Wednesday night in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
    The department has also opened an internal investigation probing whether the officers in the video, who did not detain or arrest McGraw on site, should have done so, Swain said.
    McGraw's bond was set at $2,500 secured, and his next court date is April 6.
    After his campaign declined to comment, Trump said Thursday night in the CNN GOP debate that he does "not condone that at all," referring to McGraw's sucker punch.
    But asked if his tone and remarks about protesters -- including saying he wanted to punch one "in the face" -- had contributed to the violence at his rallies, Trump demurred.
    "I hope not. I truly hope not," Trump said.
    McGraw told "Inside Edition," which is syndicated by CBS, that the protester, whom police identified as Rakeem Jones, deserved it.
    "Yes, he deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don't know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization," McGraw said in an interview conducted after the rally but before he was charged. He added that the protester was not acting "like an American" and said it was unclear if he was a part of ISIS. After the interview was reported, authorities added the communicating threats charge.
    Jones told CNN that he was "glad" McGraw was charged, but expressed frustration that no one arrested him at the moment.
    "You watched him hit me. I was in the sheriff's custody when I got hit," Jones said, adding attendees shouted racial slurs at him as he left the venue with other protestors.
    "The trend at all of these rallies has been if you're not there to support him, get out of here," Jones said.
    The alleged assault Wednesday night against the protester occurred seemingly out of the blue as a group of protesters were being escorted out of the building.
    Suddenly, a man police have identified as McGraw, throws a punch at Jones. Jones was not arrested, police said.
    Moments later, video posted online shows the protester who was punched on the ground, surrounded by four police officers who then flip the man onto his stomach, before eventually lifting him up.
    McGraw, though, was not questioned by police and remained at the event.
    Swain did not say how police identified McGraw or whether he confessed to punching the protester.
    He said police were gathering all the videos of the incident to determine if officers at the scene acted appropriately.
    "We are on top of this," Swain said. "We want to see everything that we can before we make any decisions."
    Two protesters were also arrested and charged with trespassing and resisting arrest unrelated to the incident involving McGraw.
    In an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Thursday, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton called the incident "deeply distressing."
    "Count me among those who are truly distraught and even appalled by a lot of what I see going on, what I hear being said," Clinton told Maddow, according to excerpts released ahead of the full interview, which airs Thursday night. "You know, you don't make America great by, you know, dumping on everything that made America great, like freedom of speech and assembly and, you know, the right of people to protest."
    And Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton's rival for the Democratic nomination, later issued a statement on the matter.
    "No one in America should ever fear for their safety at a political rally," Sanders said. "This ugly incident confirms that the politics of division has no place in our country. Mr. Trump should take responsibility for addressing his supporters' violent actions."
    Trump rallies increasingly have been the site of confrontations between protesters and supporters, though this incident appears to be the first time a rally attendee was charged with assaulting a protester.
    A Black Lives Matter protester was tackled, punched and kicked by attendees at a Trump rally in Birmingham, Alabama, last fall, though no charges were ever issued.
    Trump has drawn heat for how he has addressed violence against protesters, saying last fall that the Black Lives Matter protester maybe "should have been roughed up."
    And despite an announcement at the start of his rallies urging protesters not to be violent toward protesters, Trump in February urged his supporters to "knock the crap out of" anybody "getting ready to throw a tomato" and vowed to pay for their legal fees should they face charges.
    "Knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. OK? Just knock the hell -- I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise," Trump said.
    And Trump also said he personally wanted to punch a protester "in the face" during a rally in February.