MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Two St. Paul Public School administrators have been charged with allegedly failing to comply with the state’s mandated reporting law after a student claimed he had been sexually harassed by a custodian, according to Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom.
Beth Antoinette Behnke, of Burnsville, and Craig Aaron Guidry, of Arden Hills, were charged with one count each of Failure to Report (a misdemeanor).
Each educator faces one charge in connection with failing to report under Minnesota’s mandated reporting law.
According to the criminal complaint, in Dec. 2011 the mother of a male student at Monroe Elementary School reported to St. Paul police that her son had been involved in an incident with the school custodian, later identified as Walter Johann Happel.
The student had told his mother that Happel had allegedly followed him into the student’s bathroom and made comments regarding his size while exposing himself.
The student said this was not the first time Happel had followed him into the student’s bathroom and that he had exhibited other inappropriate behavior, such as giving him and other students candy.
The student then reportedly told a teacher and the assistant principal, Guidry, about the incident. His mother called and spoke with who she believed was a social worker, asked for a follow-up conversation and, upon hearing nothing, called St. Paul Police.
According to the criminal complaint, during a follow up investigation St. Paul police spoke with Behnke, who was principal of Monroe Elementary at the time of the incident.
Behnke said she remembered the report.
Behnke told police that Guidry had spoken with Happel about the incident and moved the student’s locker to a different floor to minimize contact with Happel. Since then, Behnke said, she was unaware of any other incidents.
Police then met with Behnke, Guidry and Happel to discuss the report.
During the meeting, Happel admitted to using the student’s restroom when students were present, but denied ever making comments about himself.
No further action was taken.
According to the criminal complaint, an investigator with St. Paul police reopened the case in 2014 as part of a criminal investigation regarding an incident Happel had with a different student at Monroe Elementary.
Investigators interviewed several staff members about Happel and the alleged incidents.
Several mentioned they had witnessed what they believed to be inappropriate conduct by Happel including following students into the student restroom, using the student’s restroom while students were present and giving students candy.
Staff told police they had mentioned their concerns to the administration.
While reviewing his personnel file, investigators uncovered a report from another student in 2012 who claimed Happel had slapped him on the butt.
The criminal complaint states that Happel had slapped the lower part of the student’s buttocks while the student was in the lunchroom and said “people in prison get b/f if pants are sagged.”
Behnke and Guidry were mentioned in this report as having conducted interviews with the two students who filed the report.
St. Paul investigators also found records of an “investigative meeting” between Happel and his supervisors.
During the meeting, Happel admitted to giving candy to students contrary to instructions by school administration, using the student’s bathrooms when students were present and slapping the student’s butt with his hand to bring attention to the sagging pants.
However, Happel denied looking at students in the bathroom, saying he occasionally peered over stalls to see if they were occupied before cleaning.
The report states that the recommendation from a human services consultant was written reprimand, but shows that was removed later.
According to the criminal complaint, in all the investigations, officials were not able to find any evidence that Behnke or Guidry had reported the incidents to a local child welfare agency, police or sheriff.
In a follow up interview, Guidry admitted he was aware of the incidents but did not report them as it was not his responsibility to report and someone else on the administration would report it.
Behnke and Guidry have been charged by summons and their first court appearance has not yet been set.
Dakota County is handling the cases of Behnke and Guidry as the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office is handling the prosecution of Happel.