Ex-fiancée who accused Montana Senate president of abuse drops protection order

Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, says woman’s claims were not true; she said issue resolved, but earlier statements were made under oath

By: - July 11, 2023 5:02 pm
Montana Senate President Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton.

Montana Senate President Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton. (Photo provided by Montana Legislature)

Montana Senate President Jason Ellsworth said Tuesday his ex-fiancée’s domestic abuse claims in a request for a protection order granted May 2 were not true, and attorneys for both filed a stipulated agreement granted Tuesday by a justice of the peace to vacate the protection order.

The Montana Free Press first reported news of the protection order and the domestic abuse allegations contained in the original filing on Monday evening, leading the Montana Democratic Party to call for Ellsworth’s resignation on Tuesday morning.

Ellsworth, a Hamilton Republican, said in a statement through his attorney that his ex-fiancée “unwisely and without representation filed claims against me that are not true.” The Daily Montanan is not naming Ellsworth’s ex-fiancée because the original complaint alleged domestic abuse against her.

“She prepared her petition in May on her own when she was angry that I still wanted her to return my property after I ended our relationship in March,” Ellsworth said in the statement. “She has voluntarily dismissed her claims and has conceded that she does not require any orders for her protection, which is correct. I have not been abusive and do not wish her or her daughter any harm. We were there for each other for six years. Sadly, that came to an end earlier this year. We are both moving on respectfully.”

Ellsworth has not been charged with any related crimes in Lewis and Clark County, according to court records from October 2022 to the present and court records searches in other counties.

However, he was charged in May 2021 for obstructing a law enforcement officer who stopped him for speeding, and a video of that incident was released Tuesday by Lee Enterprises, which had gone to court for the record. Ellsworth pleaded guilty to that charge and apologized to the trooper in court for attempting to get out of the ticket.

Abuse allegations lead to protection order

The woman applied for the temporary order of protection on May 2 – the final day of the legislative session this year – and a Lewis and Clark County justice of the peace granted it the same day. The Daily Montanan obtained the application and protection order Tuesday.

Courts routinely grant temporary protection orders to ensure the safety of victims.

The woman alleged in the application for the order Ellsworth had shoved and choked her, pushed her down stairs, damaged walls in her home and thrown objects like his phone when he was angry — allegations Ellsworth denied in a statement and in the stipulated agreement.

She wrote that in an incident at her home in what she believed to be October 2022, in the midst of an argument, Ellsworth grabbed a handgun, loaded it and laid on top of the woman trying to get her to shoot him. She also wrote that she tried to grab her phone to call 911 but Ellsworth had smashed it.

The woman wrote that Ellsworth was “saying he wanted to die” and that he was waving the gun around and pointing it at her and upstairs, trying to force her into grabbing it.

She said that since then, she had made Ellsworth get his belongings and move out of the house. She said she had blocked his calls and texts, but that Ellsworth was continuing to email her and leave notes on her truck in front of her house.

“I’ve asked him to leave me alone and to not ever come back to my residence,” the woman wrote. “I’m scared and so is my daughter that he’ll show up and try to come inside.”

She also wrote that Ellsworth “possesses hundreds of firearms at his home but probable [sic] has 2-3 with him.”

The order forced Ellsworth to stay at least 1,500 feet away from the woman, her home, workplace, vehicle, child and child’s school. It also ordered Ellsworth not to communicate with the woman and not to possess firearms.

However, the stipulated agreement says that Ellsworth “has had no contact” with the woman since the order, and that she “does not require judicial intervention or entry of a permanent order for her protection.”

“Petitioner requests the Court vacate its temporary orders. Respondent stipulates to the non-suit and to vacating the temporary orders immediately. Respondent disputes the facts presented in the petition and has agreed to waive his rights to a hearing to contest the allegations upon petitioner non-suiting this action and the Court vacating its temporary orders,” states the agreement to withdraw the protection order, which was signed by the woman’s attorney, William Hooks, and Ellsworth’s attorney, Joan Mell.

An employee at the Lewis and Clark County Justice Court confirmed Tuesday afternoon a justice of the peace had signed the order vacating the protection order and the pending court date.

The woman’s attorney, Hooks with the Montana Legal Services Association, provided a statement from her Tuesday afternoon after the protection order was dropped.

“When I filed the petition for an order of protection, I knew that I made my statements under oath. We have now resolved the case. As a result, he and I are not now in contact, and we will not be in contact in the future,” the woman said.

Earlier Tuesday, prior to the stipulated agreement being filed in court, Montana Democratic Party Executive Director Sheila Hogan called on Ellsworth to resign over the allegations contained in the original application for the protection order.

“The allegations against Senator Ellsworth are profoundly upsetting and disqualifying. The halls of the Montana State Capitol should be a place where everyone feels safe, and Montanans deserve to be represented by leaders they trust,” Hogan said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the Montana GOP did not immediately return a text message seeking comment on the original allegations or the call from Democrats for Ellsworth’s resignation, and the chairman of the Ravalli County Republican Central Committee did not return an email seeking comment on the protection order.

Video released of Ellsworth’s speeding violation

Also Tuesday, a video of Ellsworth being pulled over by a Montana Highway Patrol trooper near Townsend in May 2021 for driving 30 miles an hour over the speed limit was released by the Lee Newspapers Montana State News Bureau, which fought in court to have the video made public.

The traffic stop happened around 10:20 p.m., and Ellsworth had said he was speeding so he could make it to an interim committee meeting in Helena the next morning at 8:30.

Ellsworth would plead guilty in August 2021 to obstructing a peace officer for telling the trooper multiple times that he should be released from the stop because of his legislative privileges and threatening to call the attorney general. Lawmakers are protected from arrest while traveling to and from the legislature, “unless apprehended in the commission of a felony or a breach of the peace.” Ellsworth apologized to the trooper in court, acknowledging she was “doing her duty as a civil servant.”

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Blair Miller
Blair Miller

Blair Miller is a reporter based in Helena who primarily covers government, climate and courts. He's been a journalist for more than 12 years, previously based in Denver, Albuquerque and mid-Missouri.