A liberal group operative was arrested last week and charged with assaulting an aide to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Wilfred Stark, 49, was arrested Thursday by US Capitol Police, according to court documents, after allegedly confronting Zinke and his press secretary, Heather Swift, following a House committee hearing.
Stark, of Falls Church, Virginia, plead not guilty on Friday to a misdemeanor charge of simple assault and was released on his own recognizance, said Bill Miller, a spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. An initial status hearing is scheduled for March 30.
A staffer for the political research group American Bridge said Stark is an employee and was recording Zinke at the time of the incident. American Bridge is a left-leaning group that describes itself as “holding Republicans accountable” and deploys so-called trackers who shoot video of public appearances by political figures and candidates.
“Our staffer adamantly denies these allegations,” a spokesman for American Bridge who declined to be identified by name told CNN. “We are gathering all the facts and information surrounding this event.”
The group said Stark turned over his camera and footage to police. Stark’s attorney could not be reached immediately for comment.
The incident was reported earlier Tuesday by the Associated Press.
After the hearing, Stark shook hands with Zinke, “then started yelling at the Secretary,” according to a sworn statement by a Capitol Police officer. “The Secretary continued to exit the room and (Stark) used his full body to push (Swift) as she was trying to exit the room.”
The officer’s statement says two unnamed witnesses “corroborated (Swift’s) account of the events.”
Stark had previously confronted Zinke. He “had been removed from an elevator 2 days prior as he tried to force his way on to an elevator with the Secretary and his staff,” according to the officer’s report.
Swift, the spokeswoman, “decided to press charges to help support the chance of obtaining a stay away order against” Stark, according to the report.
In a statement to CNN, Swift called the incident “terrifying.”
“It happened so fast. It was terrifying and I still can’t believe it happened. He is a big guy. He came up behind me fast, aggressive and very physical. Who knows what this lunatic was thinking?” she said.
“Since joining the Trump administration I’ve received harassing and threatening tweets, emails, phone calls, and letters, but being physically targeted and assaulted brings it to another level,” Swift added. “This violent action only strengthens my desire to serve my president and my country.”