Police sought Lee Chatfield’s Snapchat in sexual assault probe
- New police reports reveal early details into investigation of alleged sexual assault by former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield
- Attorney General Dana Nessel, who expanded the probe to include financial dealings, has delayed a charging decision in the case
- State police sought Snapchat records, interviewed family members and searched a Chatfield family school in northern Michigan
LANSING – Michigan State Police completed their criminal sexual assault investigation into former House Speaker Lee Chatfield more than a year ago, according to newly released police reports that raise questions about a delayed charging decision by Attorney General Dana Nessel.
The heavily redacted reports, first obtained by MIRS subscription news, reveal new details about the initial investigation, which began December 2021 when Chatfield’s sister-in-law accused him of sexually assaulting her, starting when she was a teenage student at the Christian school where he taught.
Police twice visited the northern Michigan school, once with a search warrant, and asked the Snapchat instant messaging company to preserve any private communications between the Chatfields, among other things, according to the report. They also interviewed multiple family members about the allegations.
Rebekah Chatfield first publicly shared her story with Bridge Michigan for a January 2022 article, but she had already offered police a similar account: She said she was "groomed and repeatedly sexually assaulted by Lee Chatfield from late 2010 to June 2021 at multiple locations all over the state of Michigan,” according to one of the police reports.
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Some of the encounters “were consensual” but many were not, Rebekah Chatfield told investigators. She said she “was coerced into having sex with Lee and felt like she could not say no to him due to his position of authority over her,” a police officer wrote in one report.
Chatfield, a Levering Republican who led the Michigan House in 2019 and 2020, has acknowledged having a sexual relationship with his sister-in-law. But, through his attorney, Chatfield has repeatedly denied the assault allegations, claiming they were consenting adults at all times.
Nessel joined the investigation in February 2022 and took over that fall. Previous search warrant requests show the attorney general expanded the probe to focus on Chatfield's extensive use of secretive nonprofit funds to pay for travel and other undisclosed perks.
The newly released reports show the Michigan State Police, which had been leading the sexual assault probe, had attended weekly case meetings with the attorneys general’s office through October of 2022.
Last year Nessel promised a charging decision by the end of 2023 but said in December that her investigators needed more time. Instead, she charged two of Chatfield’s former staffers, Ann and Rob Minard, accusing them of running a “criminal enterprise” by embezzling funds from various political accounts.
The delay has been “frustrating to a lot of people, and I suspect to Mr. Chatfield as well,” Jamie White, an attorney representing Rebekah Chatfield, told Bridge Michigan.
“I don't understand what the basis of the delay is,” he added. “It's a straight black and white line that you cannot have sexual relationships with your students.”
A Nessel spokesperson said Thursday that the criminal sexual assault case was “fully transferred” to the attorney general’s office in August 2022, and investigators there have continued to work on it since.
Last week, Nessel appeared to raise the possibility of continued delays in the Chatfield case.
Asked when she might decide whether to charge Chatfield, Nessel told reporters she expects more information in the case in the next couple of months.
“Public corruption cases” are generally a “very lengthy, arduous process” because the suspects already have defense attorneys to argue over “what emails or documents or text messages can be produced,” Nessel told reporters.
Due process considerations are more important than speed, she said.
“A fair and thorough investigation — whenever it is completed — can only result in no charges being issued,” Chatfield’s attorney Mary Chartier said Thursday.
Former Chatfield staffers Anne and Rob Minard have pleaded not guilty in their case and are due back in court for a preliminary exam on Feb. 15.
The newly released police reports show Chatfield’s wife, Stephanie Chatfield, defended him in a February 2022 interview with investigators, as she did publicly nine days later in a lengthy statement.
The allegations of sexual assault are "character assassination," she told police at the time, suggesting the public had already judged her husband guilty, which is "so incredibly unfair."
Investigators also sought data from Snapchat, an instant messaging phone app that automatically deletes content. On letterhead bearing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s name, state police asked the tech company to preserve any relevant communication logs between Lee and Rebekah Chatfield.
Lee Chatfield used the app to send “lewd” messages, his sister-in-law claimed. But Chatfield’s attorney, in an apparent attempt to prove the communications were mutual, sent authorities a screenshot showing Lee and Rebekah had at times “snapped” for 29 and 10 consecutive days.
The reports also reveal new information about a series of January 2022 trips investigators made to the Northern Michigan Christian Academy in Burt Lake, which is run by Chatfield’s dad.
Investigators asked Rusty Chatfield when his son taught at the school, but he declined to answer. He "instead hung his head for several seconds in silence and then stated that he wanted to consult an attorney," a detective wrote.
As Bridge previously reported, authorities returned with a search warrant 10 days later. Rusty Chatfield then told investigators he did not keep any personnel records, which they called an “oddity." The school did keep student records, and a staffer told investigators Rusty Chatfield had reviewed Rebekah’s a day earlier.
State police reviewed school yearbooks and said they also contacted "most" of Rebekah Chatfield’s classmates to see if any had any relevant information about the case.
As of May 31, 2022, investigators said they were preparing to submit their findings to the attorney general's office for review.
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