They are known as Child A, Child B, Child C, Child D and Child L., five teenage girls whom Bradley Schnickel was accused of trying to lure into sexual encounters by using social media. On Monday, the former Minneapolis police officer pleaded guilty in Anoka County court to five charges involving the girls.
Prosecutors, who alleged that there were 18 victims, said Schnickel would often finish a day after patrolling the streets with a spin on the Internet trying to groom a next victim.
He spent weeks telling the girls they were attractive, offered to give them booze, sent pictures of his genitals and convinced them it was OK to date a man in his early 20s, though he was over 30 and married with two small children, prosecutors said. Investigators reported finding more than 700 Facebook contacts of middle- and high school girls on his computer. Authorities say he had sex with two of the girls he met online.
Schnickel now faces the possibility of 12 years in prison. Assistant County Attorney Paul Young said that, in 20 years of prosecuting sex crimes, he has never seen a case where authorities could charge one man with so many identifiable victims.
At least six girls and their families attended Monday's hearing, and Young said it was difficult for them to actually hear Schnickel's admissions to so many crimes. After prosecutors consulted with the victims' families and defense attorney Fred Bruno, Schnickel pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal or attempted criminal sexual conduct and two counts of electronic solicitation of a minor between 2010 and 2013. All other charges were dropped.
Schnickel already was sentenced to one year in the Hennepin County workhouse after pleading guilty last summer to sending nude photographs of himself to two teenage girls.
Schnickel, 33, was initially arrested and charged in Anoka County last February. He was fired from the Minneapolis police force at that time. He was charged in the Hennepin County case last April.
He and his wife, who sat in the front row in the gallery, declined to comment after Monday's hearing. Bruno said that the proceeding went as expected and that he plans to argue for a sentencing departure at the next hearing May 12.
"He is doing well in his treatment and is keeping his nose to the grindstone," Bruno said, "He's doing what he has to do."
In reviewing the facts of the counts to which Schnickel pleaded guilty, Young went through a level of detail that Bruno later called gratuitous. Schnickel met Child L when she was rollerblading, and she was 16 when he had sex with her, Young said. Child A was 14, an age Schnickel said he found "hot" in online correspondence. He had sex with her, giving her a vodka mix.
"You were a 33-year-old police officer doing this to a 14-year-old girl," Young said.
He went on to describe similar patterns with the others, saying the people Schnickel was victimizing could have been similar to girls he may have had to help during his patrol shifts. At one point, Schnickel responded to a question by telling the court "I was disappointed at what I had done." Young quickly responded that it didn't slow him down at the time.
One girl walked out crying during the hearing and none of the girls or their families wanted to comment afterward.
"It's scary what can happen on the Internet," Young said. "He had an impact on so many people in the community. He was supposed to be a trusted member of society."
Even with multiple victims, Young said there is a limit to the sentence Schnickel could receive. His office tried to make sure all the victims felt they were getting a fair and reasonable deal.
If Bruno argues that his client deserves a sentence departure because he's been successful in treatment, Young said that may be overshadowed by the number of victims.
"He deserves prison," Young said. "The families will be relieved when this is over and they can move forward with their lives."