MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A former St. Paul elementary school custodian pleaded guilty Thursday to charges connected to the sexual abuse of several children – including family members – and the invasion of student privacy.
Walter Johann Happel, 63, appeared tired in court Thursday, where he pleading guilty to five charges: one count each of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct, one count each of second- and fourth-degree interfamilial sexual abuse and one count of surreptitious invasion of privacy.
Happel will be sentenced to 120 months in prison per his plea deal, according to the Ramsey County Attorney’s office.
The criminal sexual conduct charges relate to instances as far back as 1984, in which Happel sexually abused several children, including his niece, two nephew and a neighbor child.
He admitted to sexually assaulting his 15-year-old nephew on two separate occasions at his home in St. Paul in 1984. Happel also told the judge he sexually abused a boy who lived near his home between 1986 and 1988.
Happel also pleaded guilty to spying on an 11-year-old boy in a student bathroom at Linwood Monroe Arts Plus School in 2014. Several students told investigators Happel would stand next to them at the urinals and stare at their genitals. He also would peek under and over bathroom stalls while students were using the toilets.
Other victims of Happel’s abuse came forward after he was fired for Linwood last year.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi says he is relieved that Happel took the plea deal, and is finally being held accountable for his crimes — which spanned more than 30 years.
“This plea spares all his victims, especially the young children, the added stress and trauma of having to relieve those experiences by testifying in court,” Choi said.
Prosecutors said all other charges against Happel will be dismissed with this plea agreement. Happel’s son had also claimed to be a victim of his sexual abuse from age 4 to his early teens, but the attorney’s office said many of the allegations weren’t included in charges because of the statute of limitations.
Two St. Paul Public School administrators were charged last summer for allegedly failing to report accusations from students to authorities.
Happel worked for the district for almost 30 years.
Per the plea agreement, he will officially be sentenced on May 7.