Michigan House orders lawmakers to preserve Lee Chatfield records
Jan. 21: Michigan school run by Lee Chatfield’s family didn’t report past abuse claim
Jan. 12: Citing likely suit, Lee Chatfield accuser demands church, school save info
Jan. 11: From pulpit, Lee Chatfield’s father declares ‘the truth will come forward’
LANSING—Michigan House leadership on Saturday ordered lawmakers and staff to secure and preserve any records related to former Speaker Lee Chatfield's "conduct while in office" or his use of government resources.
The "litigation hold," ordered by current Speaker Jason Wentworth, comes as police investigate allegations that Chatfield sexually assaulted a teenager who was a student at the northern Michigan school where he taught before taking office, and then manipulated her into continuing the relationship for a decade.
The edict follows new allegations first reported by Bridge Michigan late Friday.
Chatfield's lawyer has described his encounters with the woman, who is now his sister-in-law, as a consensual affair when they were both "adults." In a Friday statement, attorney Mary Chartier said the former House Speaker is "innocent of the false rape claims made against him."
In several hours of interviews with Bridge, Rebekah Chatfield — who married Lee Chatfield's younger brother, Aaron, when she was 19 years old — said Lee first assaulted her when she was a 15 or 16-year-old student at Northern Michigan Christian Academy and he was her teacher. The school is run by Lee Chatfield’s father, Rusty Chatfield, a pastor at an affiliated church.
The unwanted sexual encounters continued during Lee Chatfield's tenure in Lansing, she told Bridge Michigan, including inside the Michigan Capitol, where the Levering Republican had served through the end of 2020.
"The new specific allegations about events alleged to have happened in the Capitol,” first reported by Bridge Michigan, prompted the Saturday order, said House spokesperson Gideon D'Assandro.
The memo directs House lawmakers and staff to preserve any documents, files or information related to Chatfield's use of government resources in the House, where he served from 2015 through 2020.
"The House has reached out to" Michigan State Police and the Lansing Police Department "to offer assistance and coordination with their investigations," D'Assandro told Bridge. "In order to help them with their work, the speaker ordered a litigation hold."
Among other things, the Saturday memo, first reported by The Detroit News, directs House lawmakers and staff to preserve any emails, text messages, voicemails or records of conversations with Chatfield related to his conduct while in office, including tape or video recordings.
"Failure to preserve all relevant documents, files, or information could result in legal consequences," wrote House Legal Counsel Aaron Van Langevelde. "This litigation hold is in effect until you receive further communication from me and is in addition to any other prior litigation hold."
Rebekah Chatfield, now 26, told Bridge she documented her allegations against her brother-in-law in a criminal complaint filed last month with police in Lansing, where she lives. The city declined to release the complaint to Bridge under the state’s public records law, saying Monday that disclosure would interfere with an “ongoing investigative proceeding.”
But Lansing Police "immediately" began investigating and are "coordinating with Michigan State Police for accusations in jurisdictions outside the city of Lansing," city spokesperson Robert Merritt told Bridge on Friday.
Shanon Banner, a spokesperson for the Michigan State Police, confirmed state investigators in northern Michigan are reviewing the complaint.
Jamie White, Rebekah Chatfield’s attorney, told Bridge his firm also recommended investigators look into possible misuse of public funds “to support behavior that is extremely inappropriate.”
He declined to elaborate.
We’ve been there for you with daily Michigan COVID-19 news; reporting on the emergence of the virus, daily numbers with our tracker and dashboard, exploding unemployment, and we finally were able to report on mass vaccine distribution. We report because the news impacts all of us. Will you please donate and help us reach our goal of 15,000 members in 2021?