By Doina Chiacu and Emily Stephenson
WASHINGTON/SAN ANTONIO – A Donald Trump rally was repeatedly disrupted by hecklers, including some from the Black Lives Matter movement, on Monday and a Time magazine photographer said he was choked and pushed to the ground in a tussle with U.S. Secret Service agents.
Photographer Chris Morris said he was assaulted first, never hit the agent, and will not press charges, CNN reported.
“I stepped 18 inches out of the (press) pen and then he grabbed me by the neck and started choking me and then he slammed me to the ground,” Morris said at the scene.
The Trump campaign said there was an incident involving a photographer and a Secret Service agent at the rally at Radford University in western Virginia.
“We are not aware of all details surrounding the incident and all future inquiries should be directed to local law enforcement,” it said in a statement.
The Secret Service in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The tussle came after the hecklers disrupted the rally, which was held as the Republican front-runner came under fire for not clearly condemning white supremacist support during an interview on CNN on Sunday.
A group of protesters from Black Lives Matter was escorted away from the raucous rally by security guards as the crowd around them began to chant, “All lives matter.”
The billionaire businessman waited for the various protesters to be removed from the hall, saying, “Folks, you’re going to hear it once: All lives matter.”
Trump paused in his remarks, ordering the security guards, “Get them out please, get them out.”
At another point when a demonstrator was being ejected from the rally, Trump said: “Oh folks, isn’t it sad? We’ve gotta unify our country, we’ve gotta unify our country,” he said. “But it is fun, and exciting.”
Trump early on Monday blamed a faulty television earpiece for his failure to disavow support from white supremacist groups, swatting aside the latest controversy to shadow his unorthodox march toward the Republican presidential nomination.
On the eve of Super Tuesday, the biggest voting day in the race to pick the 2016 U.S. presidential candidates, he tried to explain why he did not condemn backing from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke during a Sunday television interview.
“I’m sitting in a house in Florida with a very bad earpiece that they gave me, and you could hardly hear what he was saying, but what I heard was various groups,” Trump said on NBC’s Today show.
“I disavowed David Duke all weekend long, on Facebook, on Twitter, and obviously, it is never enough,” he added.
(Additional reporting by Amanda Becker, Susan Heavey, Megan Cassella; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry, Dan Grebler and Jonathan Oatis)
Photo: Photographer Christopher Morris is removed by security officials as U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event in Radford, Virginia February 29, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane