A former Cascade Township firefighter is facing four felony charges accusing him of child sexually abusive activity involving a 16-year-old girl, which includes charges he had nude photos of the girl on his cell phone.
The victim was involved in the Explorer program, which brings young adults interested in firefighting to the township firehouse.
Clem Harold Bell, 51, is accused of producing child sexually abusive material of the girl at his home on Ridgemont Drive, east of Thornapple River Drive SE in Cascade Township. The offense occurred Dec. 14, according to court records.
He is charged with child sexually abusive activity, a 20-year felony, and possession of child sexually abusive material, which carries a four-year penalty.
Bell is also charged with two counts of using a computer to commit a crime. He faces up to 20 years in prison on one count and seven years on the second count.
Cascade Township on Monday, Jan. 9 issued a statement saying Bell has resigned and is no longer a township employee. He joined the department in 2010.
"We were shocked and saddened to learn about the extremely inappropriate alleged conduct of Clem Bell while he was a township employee,’’ Cascade Charter Township Supervisor Rob Beahan said in the statement.
The victim knew Bell through the Explorer program, which brings young adults interested in firefighting to area departments, Kent County Undersheriff Michelle Young said.
“Her presence at the fire department was through the Explorer program,’’ Young said, adding that she did not know if that is how the two met.
“To the extent everyone at the fire department had contact with the Explorer program, so did he,’’ Young said. “But he was not in any kind of leadership position.’’
The Cascade Township Fire Department sponsors an Explorer post for young adults between the ages of 14 and 21 years old who are interested in firefighting and emergency services, according to the township's website.
"This is a co-ed organization chartered through the Boy Scouts of America,'' the website says. "The Explorers train alongside actual firefighters in addition to having their own training. Topics include 911 emergency communications, airport emergency response, first aid, vehicular extrication, emergency scene resource management, basic fire streams and much more.''
In a news release, Beahan says the township has suspended its Explorer program.
"We have reached out to the family to offer counseling to this young woman,'' the statement reads. "We have suspended our Explorers program and have reached out to talk individually with the families of other students in the program. We are also conducting our own investigation, which is ongoing at this time.''
Bell is one of two paid on-call firefighters recently suspended as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. Young said Bell was not charged with sexual assault because of the victim’s age.
On Dec. 14, the township's department was served with a warrant for "several pieces of electronic equipment" as part of an investigation with the Kent County Sheriff's Department, according to a news release.
Cascade Township officials are cooperating with the sheriff's department, the release stated.
The sheriff’s department on Dec. 14 received a complaint of an inappropriate relationship between a 16-year-old female and a 51-year-old male, according to a probable cause affidavit in 63rd District Court.
“Investigators learned from the victim that she had known the defendant since April of 2016,’’ Deputy Jason Richards wrote in the probable cause affidavit. “Since that time she stated they had engaged in sexual activities multiple times.
“In addition, they exchanged photographs between the two; these photographs included those sexual in nature via their cellular telephones,’’ Richards wrote.
Deputies obtained multiple search warrants as part of the investigation and were able to locate photographs on Bell’s cell phone “consistent with the victim’s statements,’’ Richards wrote.
Some of the photos were of the victim’s private areas “consistent with child sexually abusive material,’’ Richards wrote.
“In addition, evidence was located on the telephone that indicates the defendant captured a screen image from his device and are new files created with the intention of preserving the image,’’ Richards wrote in the probable cause affidavit.
A warrant charging Bell was authorized on Friday. Bell is expected to be arraigned in 63rd District Court later this week.
A second Cascade Township firefighter is under investigation, but no charges have been filed, Young said. Investigators are still examining electronic equipment seized as part of the investigation, she said.