The father of Lee Chatfield is speaking out about the sexual assault allegations against his son, a former state legislator who served as one of Michigan’s youngest-ever House speakers.
Chatfield’s sister-in-law Rebekah Chatfield accused him in a recent criminal complaint of sexual assault she says allegedly began as unwelcome touching that escalated to unwanted sex from the time she was 15 until July 2021.
Michigan State Police are investigating.
Lee, who has not been charged, has denied the allegations and vowed to “vigorously fight these false claims.” His attorney says he had a consensual affair with Rebekah when they were both adults.
Rebekah, now 26, claims the abuse began when she was a student at Northern Michigan Christian Academy, where Lee, now 33, was a teacher and an athletic director at the time, and she attended the affiliated Northern Michigan Baptist Bible Church, where her father-in-law, Rusty Chatfield, is a pastor.
“He destroyed me, and has controlled my life since I was 15-16, the past 10-11 years,” Rebekah told Bridge Michigan in a series of interviews, published Friday, about the allegations against her brother-in-law. “And I know the only way to get justice for this is to come forward and to file a criminal [complaint] against him.”
Rusty, who has told reporters Rebekah’s allegations aren’t true, appeared to address his son’s case from the church pulpit on Sunday, telling his congregation to do “what God has commissioned us to do.”
“What are we going to do when we have problems? We are going to have church, we are going to have fellowship and we’re going to have a Christian school,” Rusty said, according to video of his sermon that has been posted on Twitter.
“We are in certain circumstances, as all of you know, which I’m not going to refer to specially. We’re in certain circumstances now that — we’re in the spotlight,” he continued. “That said, now is the time to show that we go to the Bible and that we’re going to stand for truth. The enemy, he wants to distract us from the work of God.”
Rusty’s son and Lee’s younger brother, Aaron Chatfield, is married to Rebekah and has said he supports his wife.
“Lee portrays himself as a family tradition, conservative guy who believes in the Bible and the Bible is so important,” Aaron told Bridge Michigan. “No, it couldn’t be further from who my man was as a person.”
Rusty cautioned churchgoers about jumping to conclusions based on accusations, citing a warning in the Book of Nehemiah against believing what is “reported among the heathen.”
“You can’t believe everything you read in the newspaper, on the internet, or whatever,” Rusty continued in his sermon. “You should know what I’m talking about. You cannot believe that. Truth will come forward.”
Lee’s attorney has acknowledged that her client had an affair while he was married but adamantly said the relationship was consensual and happened while both were over the age of 18.
“He did not assault this woman in any manner during their years-long adult relationship,” the attorney, Mary Chartier, told PEOPLE.
Rusty told his congregation on Sunday that there is some veracity to the “certain circumstances” he was preaching about.
“Parts of things are true, but parts are not true,” Rusty said. “And the enemy is always lying, exaggerating, distorting. Some truth and some no truth. That is the way it is, so some of it is true.”
The pastor also told the churchgoers in attendance, “We have done nothing wrong. We can’t let false accusations stop us from doing the work of God.”