Two more women have come forward to say a northern Minnesota divorce attorney sexually assaulted them, leading to prosecutors filing additional criminal charges against the man.
Prosecutors added three more felony criminal sexual conduct counts this week to the case against Jesse Powell. The 32-year-old has a law office, Powell Law, PLLC, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
He was charged in December with criminal sexual conduct in connection with allegations from two women. Since those charges became public, two more women have come forward with similar accounts.
Their allegations are detailed in an amended criminal complaint prosecutors filed against Powell Thursday. He now faces three more counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and one new count of disorderly conduct.
"We each kept what our attorney Jesse Powell did to us buried. But, because of the courage of the other victims speaking up, we each came to know that we needed to come forward," the women said in a statement, released through domestic violence trainer and consultant Melissa Petrangelo Scaia. "We both thought we were the only one he did this to."
They also encouraged any other victims to come forward, saying they "know it is hard to talk about it but what we know now is that it is harder to keep it buried.
"If you decide to come forward, you will not be alone. You would have our support," their statement concluded.
Powell, during a Jan. 14 interview with the investigator in the case, admitted to some sexual encounters with one of the victims but insisted they were consensual. He repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, though also said there were periods he drank heavily and may have said inappropriate things. On a couple of occasions, when the investigator asked about specific accusations, he said he could not remember or that it "didn't sound right," according to the criminal complaint.
When asked if hugging or kissing a client, which he acknowledged doing with one of the victims, was standard attorney-client behavior, he said it was not normal or appropriate, the charges said.
An omnibus hearing in the case is set for March 14.
Powell had previously resigned as assistant county attorney in Itasca County after being accused of sexual harassment and making inappropriate comments toward female colleagues. The charges say an investigation found most of the claims made against him had been substantiated.
When asked why multiple women have now accused him of sexual assault, Powell told authorities he had no idea, according to the charges.
More from the charges
The original criminal complaint included accounts from two women: One said Powell sexually assaulted her after she'd hired him to represent her in a divorce proceeding. the other said Powell made inappropriate sexual comments about her body and touched her after she'd hired him.
The amended criminal complaint includes detailed allegations from two additional women, both of whom spoke to law enforcement after seeing news stories about the initial charges. According to the newest complaint:
One of the two women to recently come forward said she hired Powell to represent her during a custody dispute with her ex-husband during the summer of 2021. In the days following their first meeting, he made inappropriate comments, touched her without her consent, and sent explicit messages over Snapchat, including calling her a "naughty, dirty client who had to work off her bill."
He later sexually assaulted her on two separate occasions in his office, prosecutors allege, and on one occasion sexually assaulted her at her workplace. On one of these occasions, the victim told investigators she "knew he was going to do it and she just wanted it over" with because she needed a lawyer on short notice for a hearing. She also alleged Powell routinely touched her without her consent during legal meetings and hearings.
The woman said she had trouble going to her workplace, struggled to sleep and eat, and went to two separate treatment facilities over the six months that this occurred. In December, she told someone she wished "she could do something" about what happened, but believed that because she'd gone back to him for legal help, thought that wasn't possible. She told investigators she did not want to have sex with Powell. On one occasion, she said she knew Powell wouldn't leave her workplace until he got what he wanted.
The investigator found the dates she provided matched the court dates in her case.
The second woman to recently come forward met Powell about six years ago, as she has worked several public-facing jobs. He would talk to her or chat her up and they eventually connected over Snapchat, which Powell used to send more explicit messages.
In early 2020, Powell invited her to his home in Bigfork. The woman told investigators she hadn't ruled out sex, but that what actually happened left her scared and shaken up. As soon as she arrived, Powell tried to pull her from the car and forced himself on her. He then pulled her into the bedroom and sexually assaulted her. At one point during the assault he grabbed her by the throat and insulted her.
The woman said she never told Powell he could do any of the things he did, and that she wanted it to stop but believed she couldn't do anything. She called her former boyfriend and explained what happened. (He later corroborated the story with the investigator, saying it involved an "ex D.A> from Itasca County" named Jesse.)
In the summer of 2020 she began having car trouble and a friend said Powell often gave out legal advice in these situations. She went to his office multiple times from June 2020 through spring 2021, and said on four separate occasions he pulled her into the bathroom, blocked the door and sexually assaulted her, sometimes to the point of hurting her. She felt she had "no choice" and was never asked if she consented.
She continued to go back to him because on other occasions he did not sexually assault her, and she believed the was helping progress the car issue. She stopped talking to him in the fall of 2021 after he became more aggressive. In November, he showed up at her workplace and tried to force himself on her in a room away from others. The woman said she'd guided him to that spot because there were large windows and a coworker just outside could see everything.
She told Powell this and he eventually relented, letting her leave that area.
Powell, when speaking to the investigator, said he has "lost everything" because his name is in the news and he shows up as a rapist. The investigator asked Powell if he was a rapist, to which Powell said he never forced anyone to have sex with him.
Powell also denied that the victim was ever at his home, saying he had no reason to invite her there. However, she was able to provide authorities accurate descriptions of the exterior and interior, including trim, colors, the layout and items in the bedroom.
Powell insisted he has never forced himself on anyone and does not touch people who don't want to be touched. He characterized any sexual encounters he had with the women as consensual.