CHARGES: St. Paul janitor peeked under bathroom stall, smiled - KMSP-TV

CHARGES: St. Paul janitor peeked under bathroom stall, smiled at boy

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

Criminal charges filed Thursday offer a detailed account of why Walter Happel, a 30-year employee of the St. Paul Public School District, was placed on leave and ultimately resigned before his arrest.

In late February, Happel was placed on paid administrative leave after he was accused of inappropriate conduct involving a student at Linwood Monroe. He resigned six days later, and nearly two weeks later, St. Paul police placed him under arrest.

On Thursday, prosecutors leveled a charge of surreptitious interference with privacy, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.


The incident that got the investigation started allegedly occurred at Linwood Monroe Arts Plus school on Feb. 19, and it came to light when an 11-year-old boy told his teacher that Happel had peeked underneath the privacy wall of a bathroom stall and smiled at him.

The boy told police that he was sitting on a toilet when he noticed that a man had entered the bathroom. The boy said the man looked both over the privacy wall and underneath it before leaving and returning a short time later. That time, the boy said Happel laughed and looked under and over the privacy wall once more.

The student told officers that the incident left him feeling sad, scared and shaky, and that he recognized the blue-eyed man as the same man he had seen cleaning the bathroom and lunchroom.


After the teacher passed on the boy's report, school officials contacted Happel's supervisors. By 1:30 p.m. the next day, Happel was told that he was on paid administrative leave and should not report to work until further notice.

At that time, he handed over his keys and his badge. Happel was escorted to his car and was seen driving away, but employees learned he was back in the building later that same day.

One employee confronted Happel, who acknowledged that he knew he was not supposed to return. That staff worker noted that Happel appeared shaken and disoriented, and had loaded items onto a dolly to remove them from the school.


According to the criminal complaint, after the encounter with the dolly, investigators learned that Happel kept a room in the building that "few people knew about."

In that room, officers found an open packet of Enzyte topical intensifying gel, a packet of Stimulean energy capsules and a bottle of testosterone pills.


During the course of the investigation, St. Paul police learned Happel had been accused of inappropriate conduct multiple times before -- and new students came forward with new allegations.

MORE: Teenaged relative accused Happel of sexual abuse in 1991

In 2003, Happel was involved in an incident at Roosevelt Elementary School where a young boy reported the janitor had given him a digital camera the two had used to take each other's pictures. The boy said Happel asked him not to tell anyone about the gift, saying it would be "their little secret."

Police were unable to process those images, but the boy denied that Happel ever touched him or asked him to disrobe. Instead, the boy said he would meet Happel in the bathroom to get candy.

The district told police they would address the matter internally. They did so by giving him a reprimand indicating that giving the boy a camera was inappropriate and ordering him to stop giving students candy.

In 2011, another boy reported in November that Happel had been following him into the bathroom all year on a regular basis. The then-12-year-old told his mother that he was using a urinal when Happel came in and used the urinal next to him, telling the student "it's a big thing" while referring to his exposed penis.

The boy told his mother after coming home from school that day, and said Happel always gave candy to children and tried giving him some too.

Happel's personnel file includes another incident that occurred around the same time in 2011 after a student claimed the janitor had swatted his butt -- and act Happel told the student was because of his sagging pants. Notes in that file state that Happel told the boy, "People that have pants down like that, they are ready to get b f'd."

In 2012, Happel was reprimanded for both of the incidents from the previous year and was ordered to use staff restrooms and to leave dress code enforcement to licensed or administrative staff.

After the new allegations against Happel surfaced in February, a student came forward two weeks after the resignation to say Happel tried to get him to come to his office for candy and had twice spoken to him while at a urinal when he was in fourth grade, asking the boy, "Why don't you take out your penis more? We are both boys."

Days later, a second student reported that he was sitting on a toilet when he heard a noise from a vent above, looked up and saw a man looking at him. That student reported that a he could not confirm it was Happel, but felt like it was. Furthermore, he said the vent had been fitted with a door that could slide shut and cover it, and police located it after the incident was reported on March 19.


Just as he did when the accusations of sexual abuse were levied against him in 1991, Happel told police investigators the allegations made against him are lies.

Happel was arrested on March 18 and agreed to speak with officers once his constitutional rights were read to him, but he denied knowing why he had been taken into custody.

When police asked whether he had looked under a stall at a boy, Happel said that part of the boy's tale was a lie. Instead, Happel said he entered the bathroom, looked under stalls by bending at the waist and bringing his head to knee-level to see if anyone was inside. Happel claimed he never went up to the stalls, but had left when he saw a pair of feet and returned 15 minutes later to find the feet were still there.

Happel told police the boy in the stall did say, "Hey, stop it!" and Happel left again, returning later to find the bathroom empty with a mess in one of the stalls.

When asked why he didn't just announce himself verbally instead of looking, Happel sighed and said, "Oh no, um, I did say, 'Anybody in here?' and nobody answered."

Officers told Happel that the boy saw his face and was able to identify him, and Happel said the student must have seen out the cracks; however, he denied that he could look into the stall through the cracks.

Happel also told police that he returned to the building to get his files so he could do his taxes. When asked if he had a computer in his office, Happel initially said "my laptop" before retracting that statement.

Police also asked Happel about the urinal incident in November 2011, and charging documents state that Happel laughed and replied, "Well, that was just unbelievable." He then told police that a boy came in while he was urinating, and he tried to tell the boy that the bathroom was filthy by saying, "Geez, what a bunch of pigs."


Rumors have been swirling since news of the resignation first reached parents in the district, and many have been critical of the way district officials chose to communicate about the incident and their decision.

Charging documents confirm it took two days for the school to contact the St. Paul Police Department to report the incident, and many parents were upset with the timing of their notification too.

District officials say they worked with the families of the students involved; however, a letter regarding the incident and Happel's resignation was not sent to all parents until March 13. Many immediately began asking how Happel was allowed to remain employed in light of his disciplinary history.

Charging documents allege that after the incident reported in November 2011, the mother who contacted the school was told that the janitor had "been there forever" and "wouldn't hurt anyone." A follow-up message was not returned, and the mother eventually contacted police herself and found that the school had not done so. Instead, the assistant principal had apparently spoken to Happel, who denied the incident occurred.

Additionally, the criminal complaint states that the swatting incident from 2011 was also never reported to the St. Paul Police Department.

The school will host a listening session to address how the situation was handled on Monday at 6 p.m.

Fox 9 News also learned that Happel was a boy scout leader but was removed from his position following the recent allegations.

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