Police investigating ex-Speaker Lee Chatfield for allegedly sexually assaulting child

By: - January 7, 2022 5:00 pm

House Speaker Lee Chatfield at the Mackinac Policy Conference, May 30, 2019 | Andrew Roth

Michigan State Police are investigating former state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) after a woman filed a criminal complaint accusing him of sexually assaulting her over 12 years, beginning when she was 14 or 15 years old, according to police and the complainant’s attorney.

The now 26-year-old woman first filed the complaint with the Lansing Police Department on Dec. 24, 2021, and the case was then transferred to Michigan State Police on Thursday, according to the complainant’s attorney, Jamie White of Okemos. The Advance typically does not identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they choose to come forward publicly.

The complaint, which was first reported by the Lansing City Pulse, alleges that Chatfield began sexually assaulting the teenager when she was attending Northern Michigan Baptist Bible Church and Northern Michigan Christian Academy in Burt Lake, where Chatfield’s father serves as superintendent, White said. The alleged assaults continued into her adulthood; the last assault reportedly took place in July 2021, according to White. 

The ex-House speaker served as a teacher, coach and athletic director at Northern Michigan Christian Academy, his alma mater, before being elected to office in 2014, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Chatfield could not be reached for comment on Friday. A woman who answered the phone at Northern Michigan Baptist Bible Church said, “There’s no truth to any of that, and we’re not making any comment.” She did not identify herself.

On Friday afternoon, Chatfield’s attorney, Mary Chartier of Okemos, issued a statement on his behalf denying the allegations.

“Mr. Chatfield is innocent of the false rape claims made against him,” Chartier said. 

The attorney said Chatfield “had affairs while he was married, including a sexual relationship with the woman who is now claiming she was raped. Their affair lasted for years, but they were both consenting adults.” 

In Michigan, the age of consent is 16.

“Mr. Chatfield deeply regrets the decisions he has made,” Chartier added. “It has caused great pain to his wife and family, and they are working through this together. But he did not assault this woman in any manner during their years-long adult relationship. He intends to vigorously fight these false claims.”

Chatfield has faced previous legal troubles. He was fined for bringing a loaded, unregistered gun to an airport in the summer of 2018.

Speaker Lee Chatfield | Nick Manes

White represented dozens of women in the sexual assault civil suits againt Larry Nassar, the former team doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University physician who’s now serving a 40- to 175-year prison sentence after more than 150 girls and women reported he sexually abused them.

“These are allegations that he [Chatfield] used his position of power and influence while in the church and school and had an ongoing sexual relationship with this young teenager girl that lasted beyond her teenage years …,” said White.

A spokeswoman for Northern Michigan Christian Academy did not return a request for comment.

White said he expects the case against Chatfield to grow extensively, but declined to expand further. 

Chatfield, who is married with five children, led the House in 2019 and 2020 until he was term-limited. He went on to take a position as CEO of Southwest Michigan First, a Kalamazoo-based economic development agency, but resigned from that position in February 2021 following criticism of his anti-LGBTQ+ rights record.

White said state police confirmed with him Thursday that they were moving ahead with their investigation into Chatfield. Lori Dougovito, a public affairs representative for Michigan State Police, said in an email Friday that the Lansing Police Department referred the complaint to investigators in the state police’s Seventh District in northern Michigan this week.

In December of 2021, the Lansing Police Department received a sexual assault complaint from a 26-year-old female,” the department said in a statement. “The department’s investigations bureau immediately began an investigation. Lansing Police Detectives are currently coordinating with Michigan State Police for accusations in jurisdictions outside the city of Lansing.”

White said of his client: “She needed to move on with her life, and, ultimately, she decided with the support of family that this was something that needed to be addressed; her concern is this church is still operating,” White said. “This is how she got groomed and sucked into this. She’s looking out for others and is trying to bring attention to what she sees as a very despicable situation.”

Chatfield’s father, the Rev. Stanley “Rusty” Chatfield III, serves as pastor of Northern Michigan Baptist Bible Church and as the superintendent and a history teacher at the Northern Michigan Christian Academy. Rusty Chatfield could not be reached for comment.

Both Rusty Chatfield and Lee Chatfield sued Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in May 2020 in an attempt to limit her executive powers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The elder Chatfield, who was part of a coalition of pastors who soon paused the suit, alleged the governor was violating the freedom of religion. Lee Chatfield’s suit with legislative Republicans was successful in the Michigan Supreme Court.

Rusty Chatfield went on to organize a right-wing rally against Whitmer in October 2020, which was held just hours after news broke about a militia plot to allegedly kidnap and kill the governor. Lee Chatfield and other GOP leaders participated in the rally. 

After former President Donald Trump lost Michigan and the 2020 presidential election, Lee Chatfield, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and other Republicans met with Trump in the White House. That meeting is now being looked into by the House Commission investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection by pro-Trump supporters.

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Anna Gustafson
Anna Gustafson

Anna Gustafson is the assistant editor at Michigan Advance, where her beats include economic justice, health care and immigration. Previously the founder of the Muskegon Times and the editor at Rapid Growth Media in Grand Rapids, Anna has worked as an editor and reporter for news outlets across the country. She began her journalism career reporting on state politics in Wisconsin and has gone on to cover government, racial justice and immigration reform in New York City, education in Connecticut, the environment in Wyoming, and more. Previously, Anna lived in Argentina and Morocco, and, when she’s not working, she’s often trying to perfect the empanada and couscous recipes she fell in love with in these countries. You’ll likely also find her working on her century-old home in downtown Lansing, writing that ever-elusive novel and hiking throughout Michigan.

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