Michigan ex-union leader, lobbyist charged with sexual assault
- Jonathan Byrd, former top union official in Michigan, faces a misdemeanor charge for allegedly groping a woman last spring
- Byrd maintains his innocence. This is the second time he has been accused of sexual misconduct
- House Labor Committee Chair Jim Haadsma mediated the alleged incident last year
LANSING — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office has charged a prominent former union lobbyist with misdemeanor criminal sexual conduct over allegations he groped a woman at a social event in Kalamazoo in April 2022.
Jonathan Byrd — a 40-year-old former top official at the Michigan AFL-CIO and former lobbyist for the Michigan Laborers’ District Council — allegedly “forcibly moved the victim's hand onto his penis” at the event, the AG’s office said in a Thursday statement. Byrd denies the allegations.
“In the state of Michigan we will hold sexual predators accountable no matter how well-connected they are and irrespective of whatever prominence they enjoy in the dealings of our government,” Nessel said in the statement.
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The former top union official and lobbyist held powerful positions in state politics, especially as Democrats — who control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in 40 years — aggressively pushed for labor union-friendly legislation this year.
With heavy backing from union groups, Democrats this year repealed the state’s decade-old Right-to-Work law and gave teachers unions more bargaining powers. They are also advancing measures that would make it easier for unions to collect political contributions from members and give tax incentives to those who pay union dues.
Byrd has resigned from both posts after the sexual assault allegations became public. Anastase Markou, his attorney, said Byrd resigned to protect the unions from “negative press” while maintaining his innocence.
Markou said the allegations represent a political attack from some people “who have been angry with (him) for the last several years.”
“I am very disappointed in the attorney general’s decision to charge Jonathan,” Markou told Bridge Michigan on Friday. “He cooperated fully with law enforcement and told the truth. He did not commit a crime.”
Byrd was charged on one count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct — a misdemeanor punishable by up to 2 years in prison or a fine up to $500, or both. Markou said Byrd plans to turn himself in next week and expects to be released on bond.
This isn’t the first time Byrd has been accused of sexual misconduct. Marcie Hemgesberg, a former Democratic consultant, filed a police report against Byrd alleging sexual assault in 2017, The Detroit Free Press first reported.
Hemgesberg said Byrd coerced her into having sex with him and fondled her private parts despite her asking him to stop. As a result of her allegations, Byrd lost a leadership position within the Michigan Democratic Party, The Free Press reported.
The woman whose allegations against Byrd triggered the Nessel charge detailed her complaint in a November report filed with Kalamazoo police. She decided to tell the police after hearing other cases of Byrd’s sexual assault, she said in the report.
The woman told Kalamazoo police Byrd made several sexual advances at her despite her repeated attempts to reject him. That included sexual comments that “creeped her out,” and touching her leg, thigh, waist and neck area. She said he put her hand on his “erect penis” and tried to kiss her before eventually letting her leave in her car.
At one point, Byrd rubbed her leg and told her she had not shaved her leg recently, the woman told the police. Byrd allegedly stroked her hand on his penis for approximately five seconds before letting her pull away, she said.
In a February interview with the police, Byrd said the woman was the one who started flirting with him, which “surprised” him, the report said. He acknowledged putting her hand on his inner thigh briefly and touching her calf, but denied other allegations of inappropriate touching.
Byrd told the police he reached out the next day to apologize to the woman for flirting.
Kalamazoo police interviewed multiple state lawmakers about the allegations, including Sen. Sean McCann, D-Kalamazoo, House Labor Chair Rep. Jim Haadsma, D-Battle Creek, and Rep. Julie Rogers, D-Kalamazoo, the report shows.
Rogers told police the woman had said she felt violated by Byrd but did not go into details. McCann said he did not see anything inappropriate at the event.
Haadsma, an attorney who mediated the incident afterward, told police he believed the contact between the woman and Byrd was “verbal in nature.” But Haadsma recalled the woman saying to Byrd that “anybody who didn’t know better would think that we were sleeping together,” the police report said.
During a March 8 House Labor Committee hearing, almost a year after learning of the woman’s allegations against Byrd, Haadsma invited Byrd to testify in support of a series of bills repealing the state’s Right-to-Work law.
Several Republican lawmakers later called the mediation a “coverup attempt” aimed to benefit unions and urged Haadsma to step down as chair of the labor committee.
“It seems that House leadership is hoping this scandal will fade away and that the people of (Michigan) won't notice Rep. Haadsma’s involvement in attempting to silence a victim of sexual misconduct and sweep the actions of a union lobbyist under the rug,” Rep. Gina Johnsen, R-Lake Odessa, said in a May 2 press release.
Haadsma told Bridge through a spokesperson Friday that the mediation was an effort “to be helpful and supportive based on the information shared with me at the time.”
“When I later learned of the details, I was surprised and concerned for the woman who came forward to report her experience to law enforcement. I shared all I knew of the allegations against (Jonathan) Byrd with the police.”
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