GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. (WZZM) - Two former Cascade Township firefighters who admitted to having nude photos of a 16-year-old girl they knew through a firehouse Explorer program “should be ashamed,’’ a judge said before sentencing them to jail and probation.
“You violated this young lady who you were to be mentors to,’’ Kent County Circuit Court Judge Mark Trusock said. “You have embarrassed yourselves, your profession. You should be ashamed of yourselves.’’
The two firefighters, Clem Bell and Steven Drake, stood to the side as their victim read a lengthy statement to the packed courtroom.
“The Explorer program meant everything to me and you both ruined it,’’ she said. “Clem Bell and Steve Drake, you put me through hell on Earth. I thought I would never come out of the grave that you dug for me. But today, this is the day that I rise from it.’’
Bell, 51, and Drake, 32, entered pleas to three felony charges stemming from nude photos they had of the girl. The most serious offense is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Because the victim was 16, the age of consent in Michigan, no criminal sexual conduct charges were filed. But it is illegal to share nude images of a person under the age of 18.
Trusock sentenced them to eight months in the Kent County Jail followed by six months of home arrest, which requires they wear an electronic tether. They were also placed on probation for five years. Both have to register as sex offenders.
Bell was given credit for 168 days already served in the Kent County Jail while Drake was credited for 118 days.
“Gentlemen, you need to listen to me very carefully,’’ Trusock said. “If you come back in front of me on a probation violation over the course of the next five years, all bets are off with regards to your sentencing agreement. And there’s a very high probability that you will be in prison.’’
In exchange for their pleas, a special prosecutor assigned to the case recommended that the pair serve no more than one year in the Kent County Jail.
“But for the agreement that was worked out with the prosecutor and the defense attorneys, you would both be going to prison today,’’ Trusock said. “I would have no doubt that I would send you there. But my hands are tied at this point in time.’’
Sentencing guidelines recommended a minimum term of between 10 and 23 months behind bars.
The victim met the pair through the Explorer program, which brings young adults interested in firefighting to the township firehouse.
The Cascade Township Fire Department sponsored an Explorer post for young adults between the ages of 14 and 21 years old with an interest in firefighting and emergency services. It has since been shut down.
The Kent County Sheriff’s Department launched an investigation when the high school student told investigators her 2016 relationship with Drake "progressed to the point they were having sexual intercourse'' on more than one occasion at his home, court records show.
Drake asked her to send him nude photos of herself on SnapChat, investigators wrote. She said she sent nude photos of herself to Drake and he sent her nude photos of himself, court records show.
She also said she was involved in a sexual relationship with Bell, and he asked her to send nude photos of herself via text message, court records show.
"Bell has the photos stored on an 'App' on his phone,'' the girl said, according to court records. The 'App' is password protected and the photos are explicit, court records show.
She said firefighters had access to the township computers "and recalled a time in which Bell did an Internet search on the township computer looking for the 'age of consent' in Michigan,'' court records show.
Bell and Drake admitted that they received several nude photos of the girl on their phones, court records show.
“Firefighting is a very honorable profession; I have a great deal of respect for firefighters,’’ Trusock said. “And you have violated that honorable profession, you have violated the trust that was placed in you by the community, by the firefighters that you work with, by firefighters in general.’’
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