On Aug. 3, Charlie Kratovil, editor of New Brunswick Today, set up his camera in the ballroom of a New Jersey hotel. He says he was invited there to cover what he thought would be an uneventful evening of awards and speeches at the New Jersey Parent Summit.
After several hours of recording, Kratovil kept the camera rolling as the event’s keynote speaker, April Ryan, a White House correspondent with American Urban Radio Networks and a CNN political analyst, took to the podium and began her remarks.
Moments later, a man identified as Ryan’s bodyguard, 30-year-old Joel Morris, allegedly grabbed Kratovil’s camera and later forcibly — and violently — removed Kratovil from the hotel, twisting his arm behind his back, according to video from Kravotil’s camera, hotel surveillance footage and Kratovil himself, who spoke to PEOPLE on Tuesday.
Though the reason for his ejection was unclear, it appears Kratovil was blocked from filming, despite having permission to be at the event, because Ryan does not like her appearances recorded by news outlets.
Morris has been charged with assault, harassment and theft, according to a criminal complaint.
“This is the last place I’d expect to have an altercation,” Kratovil tells PEOPLE, “and certainly not expecting it to happen from anybody affiliated with April Ryan.” (Ryan later said on CNN that she had not granted permission for Kratovil to film her, even though he had permission to be at the event from the organizers; she said she did not tell the bodyguard to remove Kratovil.)
After filing the charges Monday, Kratovil tweeted: “This was more than just an assault on me. This was an assault on freedom of the press, and @AprilDRyan should have immediately condemned the use of violence against a journalist.”
Kratovil tells PEOPLE he finds it ironic that he still hasn’t heard from Ryan, who told PEOPLE in 2018 that she had received death threats while covering President Donald Trump‘s administration, given his history of attacking the media as anti-American. Trump has singled out Ryan by name.
Ryan told The Hollywood Reporter that the vitriol had fueled threats against her, leading her to hire a bodyguard. She wrote about her time reporting on Trump in a book, Under Fire: Reporting from the Front Lines of the Trump White House.
“I would think she would be appalled at what happened and would condemn it and apologize,” Kratovil tells PEOPLE of his run-in with her bodyguard, “but that hasn’t happened.”
He adds that he is “exploring my options to hold Ms. Ryan accountable and I am seeking legal counsel to do so.”
Ryan and Morris did not return requests for comment on Tuesday.
Appearing on CNN’s Reliable Sources on Sunday, she said, “This is not about suppressing the press. My body of work stands for me and no, I did not order anyone to do anything at that moment. What you saw was my then-bodyguard was concerned with my safety [and] come to me and say, ‘Stop talking.’ They were about a hundred feet away from me. I didn’t know what was going on and what was said.”
Kratovil says he was invited to the event by two public relations firms and received guidance from a publicity staffer on where to set up his camera.
After two hours of recording speakers and a musical performance, Ryan was set to take the stage. That’s when, according to Kratovil, Morris came up to him and asked him what his camera was doing there and who he was.
“I said, ‘I am a reporter, here is my card, and I went through the proper channels to be here,’ ” Kratovil claims. “I thought that would be the end of it. He didn’t give me his name. He said he was here with the speaker.”
In video Kratovil recorded before and during the incident, Morris is seen approaching Ryan as she stands on the podium giving opening remarks. He says something, and Ryan nods and stops speaking — seemingly waiting until the camera has been removed before resuming her remarks.
Audio from Kratovil’s recording equipment captures part of his minutes-long altercation with Morris after he says Morris grabbed his camera.
“Put that down,” Kratovil yells. “Don’t you dare, put that down, sir! That’s my camera! Let go of my camera, don’t touch me please.”
Their altercation continued in the lobby, according to hotel security camera footage obtained by New Brunswick Today. The video appears to show Morris grabbing Kratovil’s arm and aggressively pushing him toward the exit after Kratovil retrieved his camera from Morris.
“He grabs my left forearm and twists it behind my back and proceeds to shove me out of the building,” Kratovil claims. “He did hurt me.”
Morris is scheduled to appear in court in September. It was unclear if he has retained an attorney.
Ryan said on CNN she continues to receive death threats and “the atmosphere around me is charged. And that’s one of the reasons why I assume he may have overreacted because he was concerned for my safety.”
She said she will continue having a bodyguard “as long as this atmosphere continues.”
“But the protocol is that the bodyguard is supposed to be with me,” she said. “And that was not protocol.”
In a statement, the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists said, “It is never under any circumstances permissible for a person aggrieved at being photographed or videotaped to lay hands on the journalist, or attempt to take away the journalist’s equipment.”