Updated: 05/30/2014 11:45 AM
Created: 05/30/2014 8:29 AM KSTP.com
By: Jennie Olson
The former St. Paul school custodian accused of peeping on an 11-year-old boy in a bathroom appeared in court Friday for a pre-trial hearing. Walter Happel was offered a plea deal but refused it, so the next hearing is scheduled for July 28.
Happel is accused in seven other cases dating back decades. The complaints say Happel went far beyond peeping on children in the bathroom, and the alleged victims include relatives, neighborhood boys and students at Linwood Monroe Elementary School in St. Paul.
The alleged abuse ranged from forced intercourse and oral sex to fondling and peeping in on young male students as they went to the bathroom at school, according to the charges.
According to the criminal complaints, he would tell his victims "not to tell anyone,” that it was “just their little secret."
The 62-year-old from Newport, Minnesota, was charged March 20 with one count of surreptitious interference with privacy after allegedly looking under a bathroom stall to watch an 11-year-old boy use the bathroom.
A Ramsey County criminal complaint alleges that happened in February at Linwood Monroe Arts Plus in St. Paul.
St. Paul police then received more complaints against Happel, alleging he made inappropriate comments and removed property from a hidden room at a school where he worked.
Happel has denied the allegations against him, according to court documents. We asked and received dozens of disciplinary records for all St. Paul School District employees in November 2013.
Police records indicate Happel was given a written reprimand for inappropriate behavior with a student in 2012, but his disciplinary record was not included in the records KSTP received from St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS). We asked SPPS officials why his record of discipline was not in the documents we received.
An SPPS spokesperson told us Happel's case is a personnel matter and is also part of criminal investigation which precluded SPPS from commenting on our question, but we were told we could submit our questions in writing and they would respond to those questions after a legal review.
Leaders of St. Paul Public Schools said they're making changes after learning of new charges. According to a letter sent home to parents, changes includes security cameras and increased security at some school entrances. Read the letter here.
A statement released from the district reads in part, "The allegations of misconduct that took place within our school indicate a clear violation of some of our students' privacy and safety. We are sorry and feel terribly that this has happened, though we know this is nothing compared to how our families feel." Read the full statement here.
The criminal sexual conduct charges, which were also filed in Ramsey County, stem from alleged incidents as far back as 1980 and as recent as 2013.
Seven new charges allege Happel had sex with, sexual contact with, or invaded the privacy of a child. Most of those children were under age 13, according to the charges.
Michael Hall, a lawyer who specializes in representing victims of sexual abuse, said a change to Minnesota state law in 2013 made it easier for people to get justice, even decades after abuse.
However, he says the cases can be difficult.
"In our line of work, the way we prove a case is we go to the source. We go to the police, we say ‘what happened, who are the eye witnesses.’ When you're following up on a case that's a year old, that's tough sometimes because people forget what happened. You're following up on a case that is 20 years old, who knows if that witness is still in the state or alive."
Hall said it's common for people who are abused as children to come forward to report it in their 30s and 40s.
Bail was set at $245,000.