Rusty Chatfield, superintendent of the Northern Michigan Christian Academy and pastor of the Northern Michigan Baptist Bible Church, did not respond to Bridge’s questions about the 2004 case.
Contacted by telephone on Wednesday, he replied twice with “I have no further comments”, then immediately hung up. He did not answer any further calls.
Bridge was unable to reach Jon Thompson, the school principal at the time of the alleged 2004 assaults. He has since left the school.
Police records show that school leaders fired the accused teacher several weeks after learning of the student’s story.
Bridge does not name the accused teacher, who is listed as an assistant pastor on another church’s website, because he is a private citizen and it appears he was never charged in the 2004 incident. According to police records, the Cheboygan County prosecutor ruled that jurisdiction in the case rested with authorities in Texas, not Michigan. Texas authorities told Bridge they had no records to suggest they had filed charges.
The accused teacher declined to be interviewed, asking in a text message that Bridge delete his number and “never try to contact me again”.
An alleged assault, then silence
Since 1975, Michigan law required teachers, counselors and school administrators, as well as members of several other professions, to immediately report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect to government child protection officials. The requirements were extended to private schools at least as early as 1989, 15 years before the alleged assault. Legislators added clergy to the list in 2002after media coverage revealed the Catholic Church’s cover-up of child sexual abuse by clergy.
Officials subject to the law who fail to report suspected abuses can be charged with a offense punishable by up to 93 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $500.
Bridge Michigan generally does not identify people who say they were sexually assaulted without their permission.
In the allegations against Lee Chatfield, which are currently being investigated by Lansing Police and Michigan State Police, Rebekah Chatfield has agreed to be identified, in part, she said. , to encourage other women to come forward if they find themselves in a similar situation. She is represented by a law firm which has said it is cooperating with the police and conducting its own investigation with a view to bringing a possible prosecution.
The woman who told Bridge about the 2004 incident, who is not represented by an attorney, said she did not want her name used to protect her privacy.
In an interview with Bridge, she described what happened on the mission trip, an account she eventually gave to police in early 2005, about six weeks after returning home.
The group traveled by van from Michigan to the Texas border with Mexico in November 2004, just before Thanksgiving. In the vehicle were eight students – three girls and five boys – and three adults – the teacher, his wife and Thompson, the school principal.
The girl told police her teacher started holding her hand and touching her leg on the drive to Texas, then assaulted her several times during the trip, which included going back and forth between their home in Texas and a church just across the border in Reynosa, Mexico.
As the van was returning to Texas a day after dark, the student told police that her teacher was sitting behind her in the van when he reached around her seat and began to rub the arm. He then put his hand inside her shirt and under her bra, whispering to ask “if that was too much”. She told the police that she answered yes. After trying to push his hand away and nudging the classmate sitting next to her in the hope that she would “see what was going on”, the student lay down to remove his hand from his shirt .
The assaults continued on the drive back to Michigan, she told police. Lying on the floor of the van as she sat in the adjacent bench seat, she said the teacher started rubbing her leg, then her groin area, finally stopping after pushing her hand away Many times. He whispered that he loved her and said she had “awesome boobs”, she told police.
During the trip, according to police interview summaries, she confided in a friend and classmate during the trip, who was the director’s daughter. This friend told her mother, a teacher at the school, and her father, the principal, that she might have seen the teacher’s hand inside the girl’s shirt.
About two weeks after returning from the trip, the girl directly relayed her story to the director’s wife as well as an adult family friend.
Yet the Tuscarora Township Police Department in Indian River did not learn of the allegations for more than a month after the trip, and only after the family friend called the Agency for the independence of the Cheboygan County Mackinac family, according to police records.