MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A 23-year-old social studies teacher has been charged with trying to solicit a minor for sex after being arrested Tuesday in an undercover investigation.
According to the criminal complaint, Joel Daniel Fowler, a teacher at Olson Middle School in Minneapolis, posted an ad on Craigslist looking for soon-to-be or recent high school graduates who want “to play with a just out of college guy.”
The ad continued, stating, “I was just at a HS graduation and watching the girls really made me miss high school and the fun those girls are.”
A St. Paul Police officer responded to Fowler’s ad, posing as a 14-year-old girl and the two agreed to meet up, with the intention of having sexual intercourse. According to the charges, Fowler identified himself as “Blake” but a law enforcement database showed the phone number belonged to Fowler.
Angered law enforcement officers stood before reporters and vented their outrage on Thursday.
“This is something we’re not going to stand for,” said St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith.
Smith and others are talking about the apparent willingness of alleged sexual predators to target young teens. Often times, they post ads on the internet, aimed at soliciting young boys and girls to meet them for sex.
“There are predators out there willing to take advantage of young children, as young as 14 years old in this case,” Smith said.
Fowler made his first court appearance on Thursday and was charged with two counts of electronic solicitation of a child.
“What is in the complaint is absolutely disturbing,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi.
According to the criminal complaint, Fowler agreed to meet the so-called teen (but actual undercover officer) at Cherokee Park on Tuesday afternoon, where police had set up surveillance. Once Fowler arrived to the location, he was placed under arrest. Police say he had two condoms in his front left pocket and two condoms in his back left pocket.
Fowler told police he called in sick from his job as a middle school teacher on the day he was arrested. He said he met someone online and was going to meet them when he was stopped by police. Fowler denied knowing the age of the person he was meeting but said he was “eventually” going to have sex with her, according to the charges. He eventually admitted knowing the girl was underage but said he was going to see if she was lying about how old she was.
“Because what is here is someone who clearly knows that the person they are engaged with is a child, a minor child,” Choi said.
Fowler told officers he posted five different ads on Craigslist and re-posted them several times since 2012 “because he was bored,” according to the complaint.
He said this was the first time he posted an ad looking for someone specifically younger than him. He told police he did not have any inappropriate contact with children at the school where he taught.
Fowler’s arrest is part of a larger police investigation for people interested in sexual contact with minors. Forty-three-year-old Robert Hagen, of St. Paul, and 33-year-old Derek Field, of Apple Valley, were also arrested in the sting.
If convicted, Fowler could be sentenced to six years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
Fowler is currently in custody and on administrative leave. Minneapolis Public Schools is working with Olson Middle School administrators to let parents know the situation surrounding Fowler’s absence.