May 24 (UPI) -- Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate in Thursday's special election for Montana's open U.S. House seat, was cited for misdemeanor assault Wednesday after allegedly body slamming a reporter who was trying to ask him a question.
The Gallatin County Sheriff's Office made the announcement in a press release posted on the county website.
Polls show Gianforte, 56, a technology entrepreneur, with a single-digit lead over Democrat Rob Quist and Libertarian Mark Wicks. They are running to fill the seat vacated by former Rep. Ryan Zinke, who was appointed President Donald Trump's Secretary of the Interior.
During Wednesday's final campaign rally at his headquarters in Bozeman, Gianforte allegedly "body slammed" Ben Jacobs, a political reporter for the British newspaper The Guardian.
Gianforte: "We'll talk to you about that later."
Jacobs: "Yeah, but there's not going to be time. I'm just curious about it right now."
After Gianforte told Jacobs to direct the question to his spokesman, Shane Scanlon, there's sound of an altercation and Gianforte screaming.
Gianforte: "I'm sick and tired of you guys! The last guy that came in here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here! Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing. Are you with The Guardian?"
Jacobs: "Yes, and you just broke my glasses."
Gianforte: "The last guy did the same damn thing."
Jacobs: "You just body slammed me and broke my glasses."
Gianforte: "Get the hell out of here!"
Fox News reporter Alicia Alcuna, field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey said they witnessed the incident. "To be clear," Acuna wrote, "at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte."
The campaign disputed the version of events, saying Jacobs initiated the confrontation. He walked uninvited into a private office where Gianforte was giving an interview to a local television crew and "aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face, and began asking badgering questions," Scanlon said in an email statement.
"Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg's wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ."
Gianforte left the event early without speaking.
After interviewing Gianforte, Jacobs and witnesses, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said there was probable cause "to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault. The nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault."
Quist, Gianforte's Democratic opponent, did not mention the incident at his final rally in Missoula.
"That's a matter for law enforcement," he said. "I'm just focused on the issues that are facing the people of Montana."