Updated with clarification
Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) wasn’t arrested after he slammed a news reporter to the ground on the eve of his special election in May. Nor did he get jail time when he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault in June.
But a county judge has ruled that the Republican congressman still has to come in to be photographed and fingerprinted for his crime, despite objections from his defense team.
In a one-page order, Justice Court Judge Rick West said Gianforte has until Sept. 15 to report to the Gallatin County Detention Center to provide booking information, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
If Gianforte doesn’t comply, West wrote, it “shall be treated as contempt of court and a warrant will be issued for [his] arrest.”
The order was handed down last week and first reported by the Daily Chronicle on Monday. If Gianforte is booked, it would open the door for Democrats to use his mug shot against him in his reelection bid next year.
Gianforte spokesman Travis Hall said the congressman’s attorneys were considering an appeal of the judge’s decision.
“Greg remains focused on meeting with Montanans from all of the state’s 56 counties and being a strong voice for Montana in Washington,” Hall told the Associated Press.
An attorney for Gianforte didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment Monday.
Gianforte admitted to assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs at his campaign headquarters on May 24, the night before he won a special election to fill Montana’s vacated U.S. House seat.
Jacobs said Gianforte “body slammed” him and broke his glasses after he asked a question about the Congressional Budget Office’s score of the American Health Care Act. Audio posted by Jacobs captured the sounds of the altercation, along with Gianforte screaming “I’m sick and tired of you guys!” and “get the hell out of here!”
Prosecutors charged Gianforte with assault the following day. He initially portrayed Jacobs as the aggressor, but later apologized to the reporter and pleaded guilty at a June hearing. “I am sorry for what I did and the unwanted notoriety this has created for you. I take full responsibility,” he said.
As punishment, Gianforte was given a six-month deferred sentence and ordered to complete 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management sessions. He paid $385 in fines and court costs, and pledged to donate $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists to stave off a lawsuit.
Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert called the sentence “just” and said he didn’t think Gianforte “had to go to jail to reinforce the need for him not to engage in that type of behavior again.”
But he still needed to be booked, Lambert said. He wrote in a court filing that fingerprinting and photographing were a “reasonable condition needed for rehabilitation or for the protection of the victim or society,” according to the Daily Chronicle.
Gianforte’s attorneys contended such measures were unwarranted because he was charged with a misdemeanor, not a felony, and because he was never formally arrested. They also said it was outside the court’s purview to order him to appear for booking.
“Mr. Gianforte’s prosecution does not fall within the narrow group of prosecutions for which courts have the authority to order fingerprinting and photographing,” they told the court, as reported by the Daily Chronicle. The judge disagreed.
Gianforte will be under court supervision until late November, when his deferred sentence ends. At that point he can petition the court to have his record cleared as long as he doesn’t violate his sentence conditions.
Clarification: The original version of this story contained a sentence that could have been read to suggest that a Gianforte spokesman discussed the congressman’s mug shot being used by his political opponents. He did not and the story has been adjusted accordingly.
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