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Man charged with misdemeanor assault of journalist who was covering Trump's Duluth rally

He's accused of hitting a WCCO photojournalist's phone out of his hand as he recorded a confrontation between the suspect and Joe Biden supporters.

A 70-year-old man from southern Minnesota has been cited in connection to an assault on a WCCO photojournalist who was covering President Donald Trump's visit to Duluth last week. 

Duane Waldriff, of Lamberton, was cited with misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct in connection to the Sept. 30 incident. He's accused of hitting WCCO photojournalist Dymanh Chhoun's phone out of his hand while he tried to record an encounter between Waldriff and Joe Biden supporters, according to reports.

"Our office looked at all currently available evidence and asked the Duluth Police Department to issue a citation based on our review," Duluth City Attorney Rebecca St. George said in a statement, according to WDIO. "We take all criminal matters very seriously, and will prosecute this case accordingly." 

The incident happened at 5:50 p.m. near Airport Road and Venture Avenue, the Duluth Police Department said. Last week, police shared the video Chhoun recorded on its Facebook page in hopes the public could help identify the man. 

Police said prior to the start of the video recording, a man and woman were in a verbal argument when the man, now identified as Waldriff, saw it was being recorded and approached Chhoun, hitting his phone to the ground. 

In the Chhoun's video, Waldriff said, “You guys want to be peaceful? Be peaceful! You want to be violent? Come to me!” 

After hitting the phone, Waldriff left "without incident" and "several minutes" later it was reported to the police. No one was injured and no property damage was reported.

Waldriff told the Star Tribune on Thursday that he didn't know he'd been cited, saying Chhoun violated his space and he didn't know it's legal to film people in public spaces without their consent. 

“He was aggressively coming after me, and I defended myself," Waldriff told the paper, noting he didn't realize until after that Chhoun was a member of the press (Chhoun said he was wearing a press badge and WCCO jacket). 

If convicted, Waldriff could face up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, WCCO says

Bring Me The News has reached out to the Duluth City Attorney's Office for comment.

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Last week's incident isn't the only attack against journalists in Minnesota in the past few months while reporters cover protests or other stories. 

Aaron Lavinsky, a photojournalist with the Star Tribune, tweeted on Sept. 24 about multiple people threatening to break his camera if he didn't stop taking pictures while he was covering a protest in Minneapolis.

In August, a photojournalist for Alpha News, a conservative website, tweeted about and reported to police that protesters hit her with a water bottle, threw a traffic cone at her and tossed her phone into a fountain. 

In September, a Valley News Live reporter was in Moorhead covering a story when he was approached by a man who made abusive statements and vandalized their station vehicle. KSTP in July said someone cut their camera cord during a report in Anoka. 

The incidents in Minnesota mirror a trend of attacks on press freedoms that's been seen across the United States, with President Trump recently saying that violence against journalists is a "beautiful sight."

From May 25-Oct. 8, there have been more than 856 press freedom incidents, including 118-plus arrests, 215 physical attacks (153 by law enforcement) and 90 equipment/newsroom damage reports in the United States, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker says.

It has been tracking and verifying reports of journalists across the country being assaulted, arrested or prevented from documenting protests related to the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25. 

Minneapolis and St. Paul come in at No. 2 for cities with the most reported press freedom incidents in the U.S. since Floyd's death.

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