Five sheriff’s deputies in North Carolina have been suspended without pay following a Donald Trump rally where a protester was sucker-punched as he was being escorted out, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday.
Videos recorded at the March 9 rally in Fayetteville, N.C., showed a Trump supporter assaulting an anti-Trump protester, who was then detained by numerous uniformed men as his assailant walked away.
“The actions of the deputies and their failures to act in situations such as that which occurred during the Trump rally at the Crown Coliseum have never been and will not ever be tolerated under the policies of this office,” Sheriff Earl Butler said in a statement.
Deputies were escorting the African-American protester, later identified as Rakeem Jones, out of the arena. The audience booed and the protester extended his middle finger.
As Jones walked toward the exit, a man, who appeared to be white, emerged and punched him in the face.
“Boom, he caught me,” Jones told The Post in a telephone interview. “After I get it, before I could even gain my thoughts, I’m on the ground getting escorted out.”
John Franklin McGraw, 78, was not detained at the time. He was charged the following day with assault and disorderly conduct.
Jones told NBC affiliate WRAL that “I thought I was being arrested” by the deputies after being punched. “I saw, later on, that [McGraw] went back to his seat so I am trying to figure out why was he able to go back to his seat,” he said.
Three of the deputies have been demoted in rank and suspended for five days. The two others were suspended for three days.
Butler said the deputies were being disciplined for “unsatisfactory performance and failing to discharge the duties and policies” of the department.
“We regret that any of the circumstances at the Trump rally occurred, and we regret that we have had to investigate all of these matters,” Butler said. “Yet, it is our duty and responsibility to do justice, and to carefully examine not only the actions of others, but our own actions to ensure that the law and our policies are justly and fairly enforced based in principle and without other influences.”
Butler added that he took into account “past bravery and exemplary conduct” of these deputies, some of whom responded to a 2014 killing spree in the county.
The five deputies will remain in a probationary status for the next 12 months, according to the sheriff.
The identities of the deputies, and their exact roles in the incident, were not immediately released. Sgt. Sean Swain, public information officer for the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, said Thursday that more than 60 deputies were at the rally. He did not know which five were being disciplined, he said.
The sheriff’s office announced this week that after reviewing evidence, it would not file charges of inciting a riot against Trump, the Republican front-runner. The “inciting a riot” charge is a misdemeanor, defined as when a person “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.”
“We have not been able to unearth evidence that [any instances] were incited or motivated by Mr. Trump,” sheriff’s office attorney Ronnie Mitchell said.
This post has been updated.