Henry Reiff, a retired McDaniel College professor, was holding a Joe Biden-Kamala Harris flag in support of the president- and vice president-elect on his walk home Saturday from a rally in Westminster. That’s when he said a man got out of a car, cursed him and punched.
“Next thing I know, his fist was in my face,” he said. “I was sucker-punched.”
Ralph Thomas Prophet of Westminster, the man accused of punching Reiff, was charged with second-degree assault, a misdemeanor, according to electronic court records. Bail was set at $7,500. He posted bond on Sunday and a trial is scheduled for Feb. 9.
No phone number was listed for Prophet in charging documents and electronic court records listed no attorney for him.
Reiff, a Westminster resident and a self-proclaimed community activist, said his flag had “Biden Harris 2020” on one side and the image of the American flag on the other. He said that while walking on West Main Street, near the Jiffy Mart, a man walked toward him screaming from the other side of the street calling him and the elected officials on his flag communists and other expletives while also pointing his middle finger.
“I’m not the kind of person to walk by and ignore it,” he said.
Reiff said he responded “show me the evidence” and “why are you so angry?”
The retired professor said the man started walking toward him in traffic, and police, who were by the Jiffy Mart, told the man on a loudspeaker to get out of the street.
Reiff said he continued his walk and when he approached Maryland Avenue, the same man turned out of an alley, rolled down his car window, screamed the same names and phrases as well as telling Reiff to take his mask off, according to Reiff.
In response, Reiff said he asked again about the evidence and the man responded “the deep state stole it.”
Reiff said the man got out of his car, chest-bumped Reiff, took the flag and threw it to the ground.
“That was impressive violent behavior. I think we’re done,” Reiff recalled thinking. “And bam! I’m on my ass.”
He said when the man punched him, he fell to the ground and was thankful he did not hit his head. He said one of his neighbors came outside at the time and took a picture of the license plate of the car the man was driving.
According to Reiff, he told the man the assault was a crime and the man said he’d “come and get me” if the police were called.
Charging documents state that the Westminster police officer investigating the incident ran the license plate and found the car to be registered in Prophet’s name. Further investigation resulted in the arrest. The second-degree assault carries a maximum sentence of 10 years incarceration.
Sheriff James DeWees said attacks by strangers don’t occur often in Carroll County.
“Just walking down the street and being assaulted by an unknown rarely ever happens here,” he said in an email. “If it does, like in this case, it’s politically motivated; or like a case we are working at the Walmart in Eldersburg, a thief is confronted by a manager ... and is assaulted.”
The sheriff said although the reason for the assault is not “sane” to most, it makes sense to the assailant.
“The necessity to get away and commit an assault; or being aggravated over a political stance aren’t unusual these days,” he said.
Westminster City Government posted a statement to its website Dec. 5 acknowledging the incident. It states the city has welcomed the demonstrators’ presence and called the alleged attack “unacceptable.”
“We recognize the pandemic, and the ongoing economic crisis have contributed to strains in our community and personal lives,” it read. “Nonetheless, there is no excuse for violence, and it will not be tolerated or excused.”
Reiff has been holding rallies across from the library every Saturday for the past four years. He said it started when President Donald Trump announced a travel ban on Muslim countries. He said they stand up for social justice, human rights, the environment and health care.
“And, of course, that COVID is real,” he added.
Although his signs are sometimes “snarky,” Reiff said the protests are always positive and they average about 15 participants.
Reiff said he’s not mad at the man, after meditation and a walk, but he was saddened and thrown that so many believe a conspiracy theory.
“I was carrying a flag of the president-elect and was attacked for that,” he said.
He said an overwhelming number of people have shown support and asked how they can help. Reiff said he will continue with his weekly rallies and told people to show up Saturday. He said he does not feel intimidated and will not let anyone keep him from expressing his First Amendment right.
“If I have to take another punch, I’ll take that punch,” he said, “and I won’t punch back unless my life is in danger.”