A former Republican candidate for the North Carolina House of Representatives was arrested on Election Day for returning to a polling station in Charlotte while armed and wearing a pro-Trump hat after he had been banned from the site earlier in the day.
Justin Dunn, 36, voted at the polling site, but "continued to loiter" outside the area after casting his vote, the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department tweeted.
Around 10:30 a.m., officers received a call "regarding Dunn possibly intimidating other voters." Photos from journalists at the scene show the man wearing a camouflage Trump hat and no mask. He was legally carrying an unconcealed gun, police said.
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Election officials asked Dunn to leave, and the precinct official banned him from returning, police said. But about two hours later, Dunn allegedly returned to the location as a group of women politicians were speaking. Police then arrested him for second-degree trespassing.
Police later tweeted they are "committed to protecting the right of our community members to engage in safe, secure and unimpeded access to voting sites."
Dunn was not charged with voter intimidation, a federal crime. Police told BuzzFeed News that “based on the information provided to officers on the scene from witnesses, there was not sufficient evidence to charge him with Voter Intimidation.”
Dunn unsuccessfully ran for the North Carolina House of Representatives in 2016 as a Republican candidate, he confirmed in a phone interview on Tuesday night with BuzzFeed News.
He denied he was trying to intimidate voters at the polls on Tuesday, saying he was the one who experienced voter intimidation and had been “yelled at by BLM people.”
“To combat what I thought was intimidation, I said a prayer,” Dunn said. “I thought it was good to go back there to let everyone know I was there legally.”
Dunn also defended his carrying of a gun, saying it is legal and that he always has a gun on him because he is concerned about the murder rate in Charlotte.
In video of the arrest captured by the Charlotte Observer, Dunn can be seen being placed in handcuffs and arrested without incident.
He can be heard asking officers why he was being arrested. "I was not informed by anyone who owns the property to leave," Dunn says in the video.
According to the Charlotte Agenda, Democratic Rep. Alma Adams, who represents the area, had been present at the site and was "quickly whisked away." Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles also left shortly after.
Volunteers told the local outlet that some people had seen Dunn hanging around with a firearm left before casting their vote.
City Council Member Renee Perkins Johnson told the Agenda she would not have let Dunn stop her from voting.
“I wasn’t intimidated," Johnson said. "The polls are safe."
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for Adams' campaign condemned Dunn for showing up to the polls armed.
“Voting is sacred,” the spokesperson said. “It is the right that guarantees all of our other rights. There is no place for voter intimidation and voter suppression in our democracy, and guns have no business being at polling sites.”
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Prior to his 2016 campaign, Dunn worked at a tuition assistance nonprofit and at a Thai restaurant.
An archived version of Dunn’s former campaign website says Dunn planned to “increase public safety and hold accountable those who infringe on the safety of the public.”
Voter intimidation is illegal under federal law, which states that "whoever intimidates, threatens, coerces, or attempts to intimidate, threaten, or coerce, any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote" may be fined or imprisoned.
In the lead-up to the election, Trump and his campaign sparked concerns after calling for poll watcher volunteers by using highly militaristic language.
As he spread baseless concerns about voter fraud, Trump asked supporters to "watch" the polls.
“I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully," he said at the first debate. "I am urging them to do it."
Update: This article has been updated to include an interview with the suspect.