State police investigating sexual abuse allegations against ex-Speaker Chatfield by sister-in-law

Beth LeBlanc Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

State police are investigating sexual abuse allegations against former House Speaker Lee Chatfield based on a complaint from his 27-year-old sister-in-law who said she'd been sexually abused by the Levering Republican starting when she was around 15.

The complaint initially was filed with the Lansing Police Department but was later forwarded to Michigan State Police, said state police spokeswoman Shanon Banner. Troopers at the agency's Northern Michigan post are handling the investigation, she said. 

The investigation, first reported by Lansing City Pulse, focuses on allegations that Chatfield sexually abused the woman for about 12 years, starting when she was a teenager and attending Chatfield's church, Northern Michigan Baptist Bible Church, said Jamie White, a lawyer for the woman. The alleged abuse continued while she attended the school associated with the church and ended in 2021, White said. 

White indicated there were also financial allegations against Chatfield.

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

Chatfield did not answer a call or return a text seeking comment. 

White represented dozens of women in the Larry Nassar sexual assault civil suits and currently represents men suing the University of Michigan over the alleged sexual abuse of Dr. Robert Anderson and former scouts suing Boy Scouts of America over alleged sexual abuse. 

The Okemos-based attorney said his office appreciates and will not interfere with the Michigan State Police investigation but said he also is "conducting an aggressive, independent investigation." 

"We are very confident that between Michigan State Police and our independent investigation he’s going to be held accountable,” White said. "This young woman is extremely terrified of what’s coming forward for her as far as how the ex-speaker is going to respond. We're wrapping our arms around her to make sure she has tools to deal with this.”

Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, motions to supporters of President Donald Trump while speaking at a rally in Norton Shores on Oct. 17, 2020.

Chatfield, who represented a northern Michigan district, served as House speaker, the most powerful position in the chamber, for 2019 and 2020. The 33-year-old then left because of term limits.

Before being elected to the state House in 2014, Chatfield served as a full-time high school teacher, coach and athletic director at his alma mater, Northern Michigan Christian Academy in Burt Lake, according to his official House website. 

Lee Chatfield's father, Rusty, serves as the superintendent and history teacher for Northern Michigan Christian Academy.

The academy seeks "to instill Biblical principles into every student in order to equip them for future Christian service, and to approach all subject material from a Christian worldview, beginning with God as Creator and Jesus Christ as Savior," according to its website.

Chatfield was arrested, but not criminally charged in 2018 after he carried a loaded, unregistered handgun into the Pellston Regional Airport. Authorities found the weapon during a routine scan of his carry-on bag. 

He paid a $1,960 fine to the federal Transportation Security Administration in relation to the incident.

After leaving office, Chatfield was hired to be CEO of a southwest Michigan economic development group, but he resigned because of a wave of criticism over his past opposition to civil rights protections for gays and lesbians.

In a letter to the board of Southwest Michigan First, Chatfield said the organization deserves "someone with a blank political slate that won’t bring about the division that I’ve unfortunately caused."

"As a Christian, I believe the Bible. I don’t want to hide from that," Chatfield added. "Nor do I want to run from that. I don’t say that as a shield, and I certainly don’t say that to use as a weapon. I say it only because I want to be open and honest. And I don’t want to feel I have to be quiet about that within this community so I could collect a paycheck."

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

cmauger@detroitnews.com