Secret Service agent who performed WWE-style choke-slam on Time photographer at 2016 Trump rally is cleared of wrongdoing by Homeland Security watchdog
- Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General concluded Secret Service Agent William Figueroa’s use of force was justified
- Figueroa choked and slammed Time photographer Christopher Morris during Trump rally at Radford University in Virginia in 2016
- Altercation happened after Morris stepped out of press pen to photograph protesters and was blocked by the agent
- Morris slammed the report outlining the findings as being riddled with inaccuracies
- He admitted using a profanity but denied chest bumping the agent
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A Department of Homeland Security watchdog has found that a Secret Service agent acted reasonably when he ‘choke-slammed’ a Time Magazine photographer during a Donald Trump campaign rally in 2016.
The DHS inspector general has cleared Agent William Figueroa of wrongdoing after conducting a two-year investigation into the incident, which went viral at the time and sparked outrage among members of the press.
Politico first reported on the conclusion of the investigation on Friday after obtaining documents from the federal agency through a Freedom of Information Act request that was submitted back in 2018.
Video from the February 29, 2016, campaign event of then-presidential candidate Trump at Radford University in Virginia shows Time photographer Christoper Morris venturing out of a press pen to take pictures of Black Lives Matter protesters.
The DHS inspector general has cleared Secret Service Agent William Figueroa of wrongdoing for choke-slamming Time photographer Christopher Morris in 2016 (pictured)
Morris, 60, was covering a Trump rally in Virginia when he had some words with Figueroa after stepping out of the press pen. After being slammed onto a table, Morris briefly grabbed the agent by the throat
Figueroa and Morris have a brief verbal exchange, during which the photographer tells the Secret Service agent, ‘f*** you.’
That is when Figueroa grabs Morris by the neck, lifts him in the air and slams him onto a table in a move resembling the pro-wrestling ‘choke-slam’ maneuver.
Later in the video, Morris is seen kicking at the agent from a defensive position on the ground and then briefly grabbing him by the throat.
During the investigation by the DHS Office of Inspector General, Figueroa denied that he intended to choke Morris, arguing that any contact with the 60-year-old photographer’s throat was accidental.
DHS officials interviewed witnesses and eight law enforcement training experts on the agent’s use of the choke-slam move before concluding their investigation.
‘We thus find that [the agent’s] use of force was reasonable based on the totality of the circumstances [and] was in keeping with USSS use of force policies and training tactics,’ the watchdog office’s report stated.
In justifying Figueroa’s use of force, the Office of Inspector General cited the fact that Morris was in possession of a camera that he might have used as a weapon.
The DHS watchdog has concluded that Figueroa’s use of force against the photojournalist was justified
Morris and press advocates sharply criticized the findings outlined in the report, arguing that the use of the choke-slam was unjustified, and that the notion that a 60-year-old, 135-pound photographer could pose a threat to a 33-year-old Secret Service agent was laughable.
‘In recent years there’s been a disturbing pattern of some law enforcement agencies and some officers neither appreciating nor respecting the constitutionally protected role of the press,’ Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont who has long defended photojournalists.
In his first public comments since the incident, Morris claimed that the report from the DHS watchdog was riddled with inaccuracies, but he admitted that it could be in part due to the fact that on the advice of a Time lawyer, he declined to speak to the investigators.
Then-candidate Donald Trump was speaking at Radford University in Virginia on February 29, 2016. The event attracted by BLM protesters
‘They say I chest bumped him. I did not. I was stepping up to talk to him,’ Morris said. ‘He said, “What did you say to me?” I said, “F*** you!’ And he slams me. … The only thing I did was I assaulted him with my voice.’
He added, referring to Figueroa: ‘this guy did not fear me. This guy hated me.’
He also claimed that Figueroa was trying to physically block him from taking photos of protesters at the event.
Neither Figueroa nor Morris were criminally charged in connection to the altercation, even though the photographer claimed that the lead Secret Service agent at the rally threatened him with 18 years in prison as he was being led away.