ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — A former custodian at a St. Paul school is facing more accusations of inappropriate behavior with students, and St. Paul Schools will be changing safety and security checks in the aftermath.
Walter Happel, 62, was charged on March 20 after police said he was caught peeking at an 11-year-old boy in a bathroom at Linwood Monroe Arts Plus School. Investigators said other abuse victims have since stepped forward.
Authorities said there are now five new cases involving students at Linwood. In two of those cases, students told officials about the incidents but the school failed to alert police.
Happel was charged Tuesday with three additional counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, one count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
According to the complaints, a female victim told police he sexually assaulted her when she was 6 years old back in 1989 and also forced his son to have inappropriate sexual contact with the victim when she was 8 or 9 years old. Happel also allegedly took photos and videos of the children he sexually assaulted.
Another male victim told police Happel sexually assaulted him when he was between 8 and 12 years old, according to the complaints.
In 2001, one alleged student victim told authorities that Happel pressed his erection against the boy’s buttocks. Another boy alleges that Happel took him to a so called “secret room” back by the school boilers where he discussed sex with the child.
In 2003, Happel was reprimanded by school administrators for giving candy to boys, and later ignoring the orders to stop.
In a written statement, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi says he will hold Happel accountable for his crimes, and keep him away from children.
“He has preyed on the innocence of children for over 30 years,” Choi said.
After Happel appeared in Ramsey County intake court on Wednesday afternoon, St. Paul Schools CEO Michelle Walker read a prepared statement to reporters.
“The allegations of misconduct that took place in our schools indicate a clear violation of some of our students’ privacy and safety. We are sorry and feel terribly that this happened, although we know this is nothing compared to how our families feel,” Walker said.
The school district will now retrain administrative staff on mandatory reporting procedures because there is concern school leaders may have mishandled earlier warnings about Happel’s misconduct.
In addition, the district is discussing the possibility of instituting periodic, recurring background checks of all employees and reviewing past accusations whenever new cases appear.
Still, it is clear that despite the tighter monitoring, Happel may have slipped through the cracks. He was hired long before criminal background checks became routine.
Happel remains in custody in the Ramsey County jail on $240,000 bail. He is also ordered to have no contact with any of his alleged victims.
He is scheduled to appear in Ramsey County Court Wednesday on the additional charges.