LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A former Michigan legislative leader on Friday denied allegations that he sexually assaulted his future sister-in-law starting when she was 14 or 15, saying they had a sexual relationship for years but that both were consenting adults.
Lee Chatfield, a Republican who led the House in 2019 and 2020, has had multiple extramarital affairs including with his accuser, his attorney Mary Chartier said in a statement. He “deeply regrets” his decisions that have caused “great pain” to his wife and family, and they are working through it, she said.
“But he did not assault this woman in any manner during their years-long adult relationship,” Chartier said. “He intends to vigorously fight these false claims.”
The woman, 26, is one of Chatfield's sister-in-laws, her lawyer Jamie White said. She filed a complaint in late December with the Lansing Police Department. State police in northern Michigan are investigating, too, since the accusations also cover jurisdictions outside the city.
White said Thursday that the alleged assaults began when his client was a 14 or 15-year-old girl attending Northern Michigan Baptist Bible Church and Northern Michigan Christian Academy near Burt Lake, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northeast of Traverse City.
Chatfield, 33, was a teacher, coach and the athletic director at the time before winning election to the Legislature in 2014. His father is the pastor, school superintendent and a teacher.
Michigan's legal age of consent is 16. First-degree criminal sexual conduct — the most serious offense — is defined to include a specific prohibition against a teacher assaulting a student under 16. For third-degree sexual assault, the age of consent is 18 if the perpetrator is an employee in the victim's school.
“She was a child,” White said. “She was not of the age of consent. ... The idea that he rose to the highest levels of our state government is just appalling to me. We have to take a look at how that happened."
Chatfield left the House after 2020 due to term limits. He was hired to run an economic development group in southwestern Michigan but quickly resigned amid backlash over his previous opposition to adding LGBTQ protections to the state’s civil rights law.
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David Eggert, The Associated Press