Former Assist. AG charged with misconduct in office for handling of CMU rape case
Former state sex crimes prosecutor Brian Kolodziej has been charged with two counts of felony misconduct in office, the Kent County prosecutor announced Thursday, in connection with his handling of a college rape case at Central Michigan University.
Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker was appointed special prosecutor in the Kolodziej investigation in September 2019. Kolodziej had resigned his role as an Assistant Attorney General hired to prosecute sexual assault cases, after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with one of the victims in the CMU case where he was the lead prosecutor.
The Michigan State Police had launched an investigation into Kolodziej’s handling of that case and others - notably, an Oakland County case involving alleged child abuse by the child’s relatives.
Becker declined to offer any details regarding Kolodziej’s alleged misconduct in the CMU case in Isabella County.
“Ethically we cannot, and will not, delve into the specific facts or evidence that led to these charges being filed,” he said in a statement. Both charges carry up to five years in prison and/or $10,000 fine.
But at a press conference, Becker did provide a detailed account of the investigation into Kolodziej’s handling of the Oakland County case. Investigators didn’t find any grounds for charging Kolodziej, Becker said, or any other law enforcement officials in connection with that case.
Kolodziej’s attorney, Avis Choulagh, said in an email Thursday he would “keep you posted on comment” on behalf of his client.
The CMU Case
In September 2016, CMU student Rachel Wilson went out to a bar with some friends, where she interacted with the former student body president, Ian Elliott.
Later that night, Wilson says, Elliott sexually assaulted her. She reported it to the police, and after a preliminary exam, a judge said there was enough evidence to bring the case to trial. But an interim county prosecutor took over, and abruptly decided to drop the charges against Elliott.
Brian Kolodziej read about Wilson’s case in the student newspaper, Central Michgian Life, and reached out to her. In October 2018, Kolodziej convinced his boss at the time, then-Michigan Attorney General Bill Scuette, to reinstate felony sexual assault charges against Elliott.
“Reinstating these charges is about justice for survivors of sexual assault and making sure that those that hurt others know the consequences of their actions,” Schuette said in a statement at the time.
Kolodziej's resignation, and a state police investigation
Initially, Kolodziej seemed deeply dedicated to her case, Wilson said, even identifying other women who were willing to testify against Elliott, and bringing charges involving a second victim, Landy Blackmore. The intensely difficult, personal nature of the case meant Wilson leaned on Kolodziej emotionally, she said, and learned to trust him with the most intimate details of her life, her past romantic relationships, mental health history, and any other details the defense might try to use to discredit her.
By the spring, Kolodziej said he had romantic feelings for her, Wilson says, and they entered a consensual relationship - although one prohibited by any ethical standards of prosecutorial conduct. But Kolodziej became unstable, she says, threatening suicide when she tried to leave
“I can't even express to you how scary it is, to not only be getting like suicide threats from this person that's sending me the message that like, anything I do could be the nail in his coffin,” Wilson said in a November 2019 interview with Michigan Radio. “...Everything that I had fought for, every fight that I had to overcome over three years, all of it was in his hands. And he was unstable.”
Elliott eventually took a plea deal in August, pleading no contest to third degree criminal sexual conduct, and was given a sentence of one year.
Eventually, Wilson says she became concerned enough about her relationship with Kolodziej to confide in a counselor at CMU, who reported her concerns to the police. Kolodziej resigned, and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced in September 2019 that the Michigan State Police were investigating Kolodziej’s conduct, and her office was reviewing all of Kolodziej’s cases internally.
“I have never before even heard of a situation like this,” Nessel said at the time. “I've never heard of a prosecutor involved in this kind of relationship with a victim in a case, much less on a sexual assault case. So this was incredibly disturbing.”
A reduced plea for Elliott, and allegations of "erroneous police reports"
Meanwhile, Ian Elliott’s defense attorney, Joe Barberi, insisted Kolodziej’s misconduct extended beyond his relationship with the victim, and that he “taint[ed] and change[d] witness testimony, such that my client could never get a fair trial.”
In January of 2020, Nessel’s office reached a deal with Barberi: Elliott could withdraw his plea, and re-enter a plea for fourth degree criminal sexual conduct, and receive credit for time served.
“The plea – which we recommended – was preferred to an outright dismissal, which we fully expected the defense attorney to pursue,” said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, Nessel’s spokesperson at the time. “Given Brian Kolodziej’s behaviors related to the prosecution, CSC4 was the only option we believed would resolve the case by way of a plea. The ‘choices’ were severely limited because of Kolodziej’s behavior. We really had only one option to keep Elliott incarcerated – and we took that option.”
Then, in February, Barberi’s office issued a lengthy press release, saying it had received a copy of Nessel’s internal investigation into Kolodziej’s behavior. Barberi released what he says were the report’s findings:
“The Summary Report, just as the previous one, found that Kolodziej took a CSC case, previously charged and then dismissed by a county prosecutor, and pursued it with reckless abandon. Kolodziej interviewed victims and witnesses without a law enforcement officer present, and in some situations, there was never a police interview conducted. “The investigation found that Kolodziej submitted erroneous police reports to the defense counsel, the court, and the Michigan Department of Corrections. No matter the reason, excuse, or intent for submitting the inaccurate reports the changes to the reports all had the end result of excluding exculpatory information and including inculpatory statements or information. The investigation found that the reports were also withheld from the defense when they would have been vital in providing an adequate defense and ensuring fair judicial process. “The investigation found that when Kolodziej was caught providing the erroneous reports he blamed S[pecial] A[gent Karen] Fairley. SA Fairley ultimately transferred out of the division because of his behavior, but Kolodziej lied about Fairley being fired or disciplined because of her own actions. The investigation again found that all this behavior was also known by Chief of Staff, Laura Moody, who took no action. The investigation found that no one ever brought the Kolodziej matter to other members of executive staff nor to Attorney General Nessel.”
Barberi, who couldn’t immediately be reached Thursday, said in February that he would be referring Kolodziej to the Attorney Grievance Commission, and was “weighing Elliott’s legal options concerning the unethical behavior of Brian Kolodziej, as well as the failure of other members of the Attorney General’s staff who knowingly permitted such unethical behavior.”
Rachel Wilson did not return requests for comment on Thursday. Reached Thursday evening, Landy Blackmore declined to comment.
“I would like to thank Prosecutor Becker and his team at the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office, along with the Michigan State Police, especially Detective Sgt. Jacquelyn Stasiak, for their thorough investigation and all of the hard work they put into this case,” Nessel’s office said in a statement Thursday. “We condemned Mr. Kolodziej’s actions when we first discovered them, and we support Prosecutor Becker in his pursuit of justice and will continue to cooperate with his office’s efforts as this case moves forward.”