Rep. John Damoose, Jan. 12, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins
State House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare), who succeeded former House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), didn’t talk on Wednesday about the sexual assault accusations against his predecessor. But other GOP House members, including the legislator who took over Chatfield’s seat, are speaking out.
“I know nothing more than anybody else does about this. I’m just disgusted by what I’m reading,” said state Rep. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs), who was elected in 2020 to the 107th House District to take Chatfield’s seat, as the former speaker was term-limited.
Lee Chatfield, who took office in 2015, was elected to lead the lower chamber in 2018 and served until 2020, is accused of sexually assaulting his sister-in-law for more than a decade — beginning when she was a child.
The Michigan State Police (MSP) is investigating the complaint, which was first filed with the Lansing Police Department (LPD) on Dec. 24, 2021. It includes allegations that Lee Chatfield, now 33, began sexually assaulting Rebekah Chatfield, now 26, when she was 14 or 15 years old and continued to until about July 2021.
Lee Chatfield was previously a teacher, coach and athletic director at Northern Michigan Christian Academy in Burt Lake, where Rebekah Chatfield attended as a student. That’s where she alleges the first assaults took place.
Rebekah Chatfield is married to Lee Chatfield’s brother, Aaron Chatfield, who has supported her in the allegations. Lee Chatfield has denied the allegations through his attorney and characterized their relationship as a consensual, adult “affair.”
The age of consent in Michigan is 16 and that rises to 18 if the perpetrator is an educator at the school.
“I never had any reason to believe any of this stuff was going on at all. Again, I’ve been totally shocked by it, and I’m really horrified by what I’m reading,” Damoose told reporters at the state Capitol Wednesday.
“Literally, what I’m reading, I hate. It’s not what we’re meant to do,” the Republican continued. “… This is a serious job that we need to take seriously.”
State Rep. Robert Bezotte (R-Howell), former Livingston County sheriff, told reporters Wednesday that the allegations are “very disturbing.”
“I’ve handled many of these cases and you have to let the investigation run its course. … In the meantime, from my standpoint in my district. … It’s very embarrassing. It’s unfortunate,” Bezotte said.
“Certainly, when situations like this come up like it has in the past, it’s embarrassing for all of us on both sides of the aisle.”
Bezotte said he thinks there should be an internal investigation in the House into whether Lee Chatfield misused his office resources. Damoose declined to say whether he agrees, but said police are handling the investigation right now and “this is just the beginning of all of this.”
“This has taken all of us by shock here, and we’ll have to let the police do their job and see what happens. But again, I mean, as the details are coming out, I think everybody in this room is a little sick,” Damoose said.
According to Rebekah Chatfield’s complaint, the Capitol was the site of one alleged sexual assault. Lee Chatfield pressured Rebekah Chatfield into sex in his Capitol office while her husband went out to grab pizzas, she told Bridge Michigan.
Wentworth was not available to speak with reporters Wednesday during session, nor was Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), who worked closely with Chatfield in opposing much of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s agenda as they led their chambers during 2019 and 2020. Lee Chatfield, Shirkey and Wentworth were among the lawmakers who met with former President Trump in November 2020, which is now being investigated by the Jan. 6 special U.S. House Committee. Lee Chatfield and other lawmakers were photographed drinking champagne at the Trump Hotel afterward.
Wentworth spokesperson Gideon D’Assandro — who also worked as Lee Chatfield’s spokesperson — said the focus right now is helping police with their investigations.
“At this point, everybody’s trying to gather more information and see what the situation really is. But with MSP and LPD looking into it, the focus is gonna be right now on helping them and getting them whatever they need,” D’Assandro said. “… We want to make sure that no one’s in their way.”
Wentworth has ordered all House members and staff to retain any documents that may be of interest to the pending investigation, including emails, memos, calendars and voicemails.
D’Assandro said the move was “preemptive” to help with the investigations.
“Right now, the focus is on holding that information for any potential investigation by MSP or LPD if they need those records,” D’Assandro said, adding that it is “too soon to say” whether the House will launch an investigation of its own once the other investigations are concluded.
House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.) was not available to speak with reporters Wednesday, and instead issued a brief, printed-out statement. “These charges are extremely serious. This investigation must proceed quickly and without impediment,” Lasinski said.
State Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp.) elaborated on her Thursday tweet that questioned whether the alleged assaults had anything to do with her sexual assault statute of limitations bills not being taken up for a hearing under Lee Chatfield’s leadership.
Perhaps this is why my bills extending the statute of limitations for criminal sexual conduct never got a hearing last session?
Chatfield under criminal investigation for allegedly molesting a teenager:his future sister-in-law https://t.co/tiSl3Gz5Bm
— Julie Brixie (@juliebrixie) January 6, 2022
“Those comments are tongue-in-cheek. … I don’t have any personal knowledge of anything; I never had any personal conversations with him, so I think it’s probably not appropriate for me to comment on anything that he did in relation to the bills,” Brixie said.
“… But it does make you scratch your head and wonder, ‘Why aren’t we doing anything about this?’”
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