Chatfield denies sexual assault allegations, says it was a case

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Former Michigan House President Lee Chatfield denied allegations that he sexually abused his sister-in-law on Friday, but admitted to having an affair as his lawyer laid more detailed charges over the alleged assaults of the former lawmaker against the 26-year-old woman.

While Chatfield’s attorney argued the woman was a “consenting adult” over the age of 18, the woman’s attorney maintained that the sexual abuse began when she was 15 – before age. Michigan consent legal – and said Chatfield had “manipulated” her at a vulnerable time through their connection to a church in northern Michigan.

The abuse continued into adulthood, including on her wedding night, said Jamie White, the woman’s lawyer.

Chatfield attorney Mary Chartier said the affair with the woman accusing the 33-year-old Levering Republican had lasted for years, “but they were both consenting adults.” The former married lawmaker also admitted that he had had several affairs.

“Mr. Chatfield deeply regrets the decisions he has taken,” Chartier said in a statement. “This has caused great pain to his wife and his family, and they are working on it together. But he has not assaulted this woman in any way during their long adult relationship. He intends to vigorously fight against these false claims. “

White denied that there was anything “consensual” about the relationship. Chatfield, White said, took advantage of the woman when she came to see her children, “manipulated her through the church”, took advantage of her when she was “vulnerable” and assaulted the woman ” in a closet for her wedding night. ”

“The former speaker’s behavior has been reprehensible, and I have no doubts that he will be held accountable for his actions,” White said.

In response to White’s statement, Chartier pointed out that the relationship only took place when the woman was a “consenting adult” and was over 18 years old.

“He didn’t manipulate her or take advantage of her,” she said. “She was an adult and she made her own choices.”

In Michigan, it is illegal for an adult to have sex with anyone under the age of 16. Age of consent goes to 18 if the perpetrator is a teacher and the victim is a student of the same school.

The Detroit News generally does not identify victims of sexual assault. The woman, through White, agreed to disclose her relationship to Chatfield but asked not to be named publicly.

The woman filed a complaint with the Lansing Police Department in December, alleging that she had been assaulted by the former Speaker of the House from the age of around 15 until last year.

The Lansing Police Department is still investigating allegations within its purview, while a Michigan state police station in northern Michigan is also working on the investigation, the agencies said Thursday.

The investigation focuses on allegations that Chatfield sexually abused the woman for about 12 years, starting as a teenager and attending church in Chatfield, Northern Michigan Baptist Bible Church, White said. The alleged abuse continued while she attended the school associated with the church and ended in 2021.

“We are very confident that between Michigan State Police and our independent investigation, he will be held accountable,” White said Thursday. “This young woman is extremely terrified of what lies ahead as to how the former speaker is going to respond. We put our arms around her to make sure she has the tools to handle this.

Chatfield served as a representative of a northern Michigan district for six years and served as Speaker of the House, the highest office in the chamber, his last two years in office, 2019 and 2020. When he assumed leadership from the House in the midst of a divided government at 30, Chatfield was House’s youngest speaker in over a century.

While leading the House, Chatfield passed a historic auto insurance reform agenda through State House and became known as an effective fundraiser for Republican candidates.

Prior to House service, Chatfield was a full-time high school teacher, coach and athletic director at Northern Michigan Christian Academy in Burt Lake.

Her father, Rusty, was the school’s superintendent and history teacher. He is also a pastor of the Northern Michigan Baptist Bible Church and is featured regularly on conservative northern Michigan radios.

Chatfield was arrested, but was not charged with criminal charges in 2018 after carrying a loaded and unregistered handgun at Pellston Regional Airport. Authorities found the weapon during a routine scan of his carry-on baggage.

He paid a fine of $ 1,960 to the Federal Transportation Safety Administration in connection with the incident.

Chatfield won his House seat in 2014 by imposing outgoing GOP Representative Frank Foster, in part by campaigning against Foster’s support for an extension of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, an extension that would protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. .

In 2021, after leaving office, Chatfield’s opposition to expansion cost him a job as CEO of a Southwest Michigan Economic Development Group. He resigned amid a wave of criticism over his stance on the issue, noting “as a Christian I believe in the Bible. I don’t want to hide from it.”

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

Editor Craig Mauger contributed.

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