Shirley Teter participated in protests during some of the most controversial and conflict-ridden times in our nation's history. But she said she was shocked at her experience at Monday's Donald Trump rally that ended with the 69-year-old being punched by a South Carolina man, police say.
Teter lives downtown and went to protest against the Republican candidate during his rally at the U.S. Cellular Center, where 7,000 attended and hundreds more protested.
She has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and relies on an oxygen tank to help breathe, and after the punch Teter ended up in the hospital until 2 a.m. Tuesday, she said.
"People need to know what state of agitation he puts people in," she said of Trump.
The Trump campaign did not respond to questions Tuesday about the incident with Teter or other violent encounters between protesters and supporters caught on video or reported by witnesses.
During the rally, Trump criticized Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton for calling some of his supporters deplorable.
Police say they have taken out arrest warrants related to Teter's incident as well as for a man who made threatening gestures and slapped and grabbed at protesters inside the arena, according to video taken by the Citizen-Times and other media. Footage of the episode went viral after being shared by ABC News. Police also arrested five people in connection with the rally.
No injuries were reported, except for Teter's.
The afternoon before the rally had tense moments with protesters and event-goers coming in close contact.
Buncombe County Republican Chairman Nathan West said protesters at first were restrained and respectful. But as the doors opened and the number of protesters grew to about 75-100, they pressed close to supporters entering the center and some screamed and cursed at event-goers, calling them "racists" and "Nazis."
"I saw one dust-up where a protester bumped into a younger man and things escalated momentarily but was quickly resolved as other supporters grabbed the young man and pulled him back and (Asheville police) arrived within seconds," West said.
Other protesters remained less confrontational, he said.
The Secret Service was in charge of security in the entire area and laid out a plan that had local law enforcement dealing with issues that weren't threats to Trump, said Matthew Quinn, assistant special agent in charge of North Carolina operations. Because the rally inside the center was a private event, the Trump campaign had a right to ask attendees to leave. The campaign could also ask police to become involved, Quinn said.
Police made the following arrests during and after the rally:
- Harry Rivera, 39, of Asheville – Simple affray
- Isis India Rivera, 18 of Asheville – Resist, delay, obstruct an officer
- Marissa Rose Moore, 21, of Fairview – Second-degree trespassing
- James Thomas Clifton, 30 – Simple possession
- Juvenile – Second-degree trespassing and resist, delay, obstruct an officer
Earlier in the afternoon, Asheville officers confiscated a firearm from someone outside the center.
Inside the arena, the most notable disturbance came when protesters stood on the balcony behind Trump and began shouting. A man in a gray shirt made his way past several seated attendees and made a threatening gesture at the protesters.
One protester, Jeff Pinter of Asheville, said the man put up his fists, so Pinter grabbed his wrists. Video shows the man grabbing Pinter's shirt and appearing to strike him after another man in a suit, who appeared to be with campaign security walked between the parties.
Pinter said he wasn't harmed and doesn't remember some of the details.
Trump broke from his speech and began commenting on the incident, saying, "Is there anywhere in American more fun to be than a Trump rally?" Then, "It's OK, the cameras are following this."
The man in the gray shirt at another point slapped a woman protester in the chest, pushed another man on the back of the head and slapped at another woman.
Tuesday, police spokeswoman Christina Hallingse said an Asheville officer got victim information immediately after the incident and followed up with an arrest warrant Tuesday for Thomas Vellanti Jr. of Flat Rock. A Facebook message to Vellanti and a call to a number listed under his name weren't immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.
After the rally, as event-goers were leaving, the situation became much more heated as protesters pressed in on both sides, shouting and causing the line of exiting people to be narrowed to single-file.
Among the protesters, Teter said she was telling younger protesters to get an education because "Trump loves uneducated people."
She told others leaving "You better learn to speak Russian." She said that was referencing what she felt was a cozy relationship between the Republican and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who she said was "playing" Trump.
At that point, she said a man turned and punched her in the jaw. Some witnesses said Teter touched the man, but she said she didn't.
Matt Price of Fairview said he saw Teter hit the ground and heard a loud "metal clank" and assumed it was the oxygen tank she was wearing in a backpack.
"Then a little eruption ensued and some people chased down that guy and there was a little heated moment right there before the cops stepped in," Price said.
Kristin Azulita said she saw the incident and asked police why the man was not being detained "despite ample evidence of a criminal act."
"They told us that the orders had come from above," Azulita said.
Police said they did not make an immediate arrest because they didn't witness the incident, but they did take statements and get information, Hallingse said. The spokeswoman said she didn't know what orders Azulita was referring to. Afterward, police took Teter home, she said.
Teter said police gave her information about the man and said she could bring charges herself with the magistrate. She then went to the hospital and was released early Tuesday. She said she had pain in her jaw and couldn't chew. She also had a scraped elbow and pain in her ribs. She said hospital staff had given her several pages detailing her injuries, but that she had not gone through them.
Teter said she was originally from Minnesota and went to San Francisco as a 16-year-old where she protested they war in Vietnam. Later in Milwaukee, she said she also joined the Civil Rights movement.
Despite the heated environment at that time, Teter said, "they were peace marches. They were peaceful."
She spoke to the Citizen-Times from the counter at Cafe 64 on Haywood Street downtown. Manager Jared Dixon hugged her after serving her coffee and said he heard about the incident Monday and rushed out to look for her.
"She's such a sweet lady," Dixon said. "She's like our mascot."
Tuesday afternoon Hallingse said they had issued a warrant for Richard Campbell in relation to Teter's incident. Teter said officers gave her information about the man that showed he was 73 years old and from Edisto Island, South Carolina. A call to a number police listed for Campbell went to voicemail and was not returned immediately Tuesday afternoon.
Asked about whether there should have been more officers or barriers to keep protesters and supporters apart, Quinn said outside of measures to protect Trump, the secret service had to balance people's right to protest with security.
"In order to not have a police state, we have to build sites with the security of the protectee in mind and of course account for unforeseen things that are going to happen, like protesters coming in. We also have to be cognizant of freedom of speech," he said.
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