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Charges: Psychologist sexually assaulted 2 clients at Minnesota Sex Offender Program

The 38-year-old from Duluth is facing charges of criminal sexual conduct.
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A psychologist at the controversial Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) has been charged with sexually assaulting two clients she was treating.

The charges against Michelle Brownfield, 38, of Duluth, state she engaged in sexual intercourse and other sexual activities with the two men who were being treated at the MSOP Moose Lake facility in northern Minnesota between 2016 and 2018.

She has been charged with two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, with a warrant issued for her arrest.

According to the criminal complaint, one of Brownfield's clients reported he had sex with her in rooms where she would perform psychological assessments, while the other client said they had sex with Brownfield in the facility's polygraph room.

Both victims would have someone on the outside acting as a "go-between" for text communication with Brownfield, charges state. The sister of one of the victims fulfilled this role, as did the girlfriend of the other victim.

An examination of Brownfield's phone found she continued to text with the victim's girlfriend even after Moose Lake Police Department had been in contact in which she discussed the ongoing investigation and "excuses she made to law enforcement to avoid a meeting," the complaint says.

The phone also contained "sexually explicit material including sexually explicit photos" of one of the victims, charges note.

In a statement, Department of Human Services Deputy Commissioner Chuck Johnson said: "We expect all staff to maintain strict professional boundaries at MSOP. That’s essential in any therapeutic setting, and anything less is unacceptable.

"Under data privacy laws, we can’t comment on specific personnel matters. However, generally speaking, any allegation of sexual contact between a staff member and client is taken seriously, treated with urgency and examined thoroughly. We involve law enforcement whenever the situation calls for it and we cooperate fully in their investigations."

The victims spoke to the Star Tribune prior to the charges being filed, telling the newspaper they'd felt pressured into the sexual acts "because of her position of authority" and because they feared she would recommend against their release if they turned her down. The newspaper notes Brownfield denies all the allegations.

The Minnesota Sex Offenders' Program, which has facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter, has been repeatedly criticized over the years for civilly committing those previously convicted of sexual offenses with little hope of them being released.

It is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit that alleges the program is unconstitutional as it effectively holds clients indefinitely after they've served their prison sentences.

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