by Peter Jakey—
A Rogers City priest has been charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct (CSC).
The Rev. Sylvestre Ochieng Obwaka, 44, was arraigned Tuesday morning in 89th District Court in Rogers City in front of district Judge Maria Barton.
The judge read the charges to Obwaka, who is the priest at St. Ignatius Catholic Church of Rogers City.
Count one is CSC first degree, personal injury, while the second count is CSC third degree, force or coercion. Both are felonies and both charges involve a male victim, according to Presque Isle County prosecutor Ken Radzibon. The alleged offenses occurred “on or about Feb. 1,” the complaint states.
“Charges have been authorized based upon an investigation conducted by the Michigan State Police (MSP),” said Radzibon after the arraignment. “The defendant was arraigned today (Feb. 21). I would just remind people that obviously all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
Troopers from the Alpena Post of the Michigan State Police received a complaint Feb. 17 “of criminal sexual conduct that had occurred in Rogers City,” according to MSP spokesperson F/Lt John Grimshaw Jr.
“The 28-year-old male victim alleges that on Feb. 1, 2017 while staying the night at a 44-year-old subject’s residence he was sexually assaulted while sleeping,” Grimshaw stated.
The warrant was authorized by the prosecutor’s office, Feb. 19. Obwaka has been jailed since his arrest.
The first offense brings with it life in prison or any term of years. The second is a 15-year offense.
During the arraignment, Obwaka, who stood without an attorney, was asked if he understood the charges. “Yes, your honor,” said Obwaka, who requested a court-appointed attorney. Based upon his financial information, Barton advised him that he should hire one.
Radzibon requested that bond be denied based on the serious nature of the charges and that he is a native of Kenya with a passport. Barton denied bond.
Barton scheduled a pretrial next Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., while a preliminary exam will be March 7 at 11 a.m.
Mike Eustice of Rogers City, who has been a member of the church for 60 years, attended the hearing, said the situation has been “devastating” for the church. He added that Obwaka “is still my friend and he is still innocent until proven guilty.”
The Diocese of Gaylord has placed Obwaka on administrative leave.