HELENA — State Sen. Jason Priest’s estranged wife feared her husband’s anger would turn to violence when she picked up their young daughter last month, prompting her boyfriend to call for police assistance, according to a recording of the call released in a public records request.
The call was made Feb. 1, soon before an encounter outside the Red Lodge Republican’s home that led to criminal charges accusing Priest of shoving his wife, breaking her boyfriend’s rib and throwing the 4-year-old girl.
Priest, 45, has denied the charges.
Anna Priest’s boyfriend, Jon Trapp, told Red Lodge police Officer Matthew Grieshop that Priest’s daughter had called her mother in tears, saying her father had cursed at her. Anna Priest and Trapp were at a bar having a drink.
Priest then got on the line and cursed at his wife, telling her to pick up her daughter, Trapp told Grieshop.
Trapp expressed concern that Priest’s rage might turn violent if he and Anna Priest showed up to collect the girl.
“We’re heading over there right now, but I don’t know what the hell’s going on for him to be acting like that and yelling and the daughter crying,” Trapp told Grieshop.
“Anna’s like, ‘He’s probably going to shoot us,'” Trapp said later in the call.
Grieshop told Trapp that he would park around the block while the couple went to pick up the child.
The recording and a transcript of Trapp’s call was recently obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request to the state Department of Justice, which is leading the investigation.
Priest has pleaded not guilty to partner or family member assault, felony assault, misdemeanor assault and resisting arrest. If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison.
Priest referred questions to his attorney, Vern Woodward, who did not return multiple calls for comment on Wednesday and Friday.
Court records say that when Grieshop arrived, Priest and his wife were arguing on the porch. Jason Priest grabbed the girl and threw her inside, grabbed his wife’s arm and tried to push her down the stairs and then tackled Trapp and punched him, court records said.
The Priests are going through a divorce.
Grieshop initially suggested that he accompany the couple to Priest’s house for a welfare check. Trapp said he wanted the girl to be able to call when she’s in trouble, and suggested an officer accompanying them might hamper future calls.
Grieshop asked if Jason Priest had been drinking, to which Trapp responded he did not know.
Senate President Jeff Essmann said Priest has voluntarily stepped away from his legislative duties while the charges are pending. The Legislature is not in session and Priest is not on any interim committees.
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