Michigan House won't conduct internal investigation into Chatfield allegations

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan House will not conduct an internal investigation into allegations against former House Speaker Lee Chatfield but instead intends to cooperate with State Police and the Lansing Police Department in their investigation. 

The House's general counsel on Saturday began that cooperation with police by asking all House lawmakers to "secure and preserve" any documents relating to Chatfield's conduct while in office or his use of House resources. 

The order came three days after police confirmed Chatfield's sister-in-law filed a report alleging the Levering Republican had sexually abused her starting at about 15 when she was a member of his church and school. Lansing Police Department and Michigan State Police are investigating the allegations. 

Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, speaks to the media in 2019.

"Right now, we're just trying to gather information on what happened," said Gideon D'Assandro, a spokesman for House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell. "A lot of this is just now coming out. The police investigation is just getting under way. We're focused on cooperating with MSP and LPD and getting them what they need."

House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, on Wednesday distributed a paper handout to reporters with a brief statement on the allegations against Chatfield. 

"These charges are extremely serious," she said. "This investigation must proceed quickly and without impediment."

Chatfield served as House speaker from 2019 through 2020 before leaving the lower chamber because of term limits. Several of the lawmakers he worked with are still serving in the House and, before he became House speaker, two of his brothers worked as House staffers

When the House's "secure and preserve" order was issued Saturday, D'Assandro referenced a claim reported by Bridge Michigan that Chatfield assaulted his sister-in-law inside the Capitol building.

The police investigation was sparked by the sexual assault allegations, but the woman's lawyer, Jamie White, said he'd also received unspecified financial allegations concerning the former speaker. Apart from the police investigation, White also has said he would undertake a separate investigation of the allegations against Chatfield.

The decision by House leadership came several years after a separate scandal in the House triggered an immediate internal investigation. 

In August 2015, hours after The Detroit News revealed a relationship and attempted cover-up between then-state Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, then-House Speaker Kevin Cotter ordered an investigation into the matter. The House Business Office began investigating whether the lawmakers mixed the relationship with operations of their House offices. Later, the House formed a select committee that investigated and determined they misused taxpayer resources to conceal the affair. 

D'Assandro said the allegations against Chatfield present different circumstances. 

When Cotter called the investigation into Courser and Gamrat, there was no ongoing police investigation, D'Assandro said. Michigan State Police officially agreed to take on the investigation Sept. 11, 2015, hours after the House passed a resolution requesting the review and the House investigation resulted in Gamrat's expulsion and Courser's resignation. 

The ongoing police investigation into the Chatfield allegations changes the role of the House when compared with the Courser-Gamrat scandal, D'Assandro said.

"We want to make sure that no one's in their way, that they're getting everything they need," D'Assandro said of law enforcement's investigation in Chatfield. 

Rep. John Damoose, the Harbor Springs Republican who now represents Chatfield's district, said he was "shocked" and "horrified" by what he had read of the allegations but didn't take a position on the idea of an internal investigation. 

As the details of the allegations have come out, everyone in the chamber is "a little sick," he said.

"I'm thoroughly disgusted by everything I'm reading," Damoose said. "...I think there's going to be a lot of investigations. That's what I'm hearing and reading everywhere, is that this is just the beginning of this."