A former Minneapolis middle school teacher who admitted discussing sex on the Internet with a person he thought was an underage girl was sentenced Friday to 15 months in prison, a term that will be stayed for three years.
Joel Fowler, 23, of St. Louis Park, pleaded guilty in June in Ramsey County District Court to engaging in electronic communication relating or describing sexual conduct with a child, which is a felony. He won't serve prison time if he abides by conditions of his probation.
As part of his plea deal, a felony count of soliciting a child or someone believed to be a child through electronic communication to engage in sexual conduct was dismissed.
Fowler has been in the Ramsey County jail for 87 days since his arrest in May, and will be released to a prisoner re-entry program until he can find a place of his own to live. His attorney, Mark Todd, told Judge Joy Bartscher that Fowler had nowhere else to go.
"He's lost his career. He's lost his marriage. He's lost his family's support," Todd said.
Fowler posted a personals ad online in the "Casual encounters" section of Craigslist, posing as "Blake."
His ad sought sex with teenage girls and featured a picture of four young women in graduation caps.
"I'm looking for a soon-to-be or recent high school graduate who wants to play with a just out of college guy," the ad said, according to charges. "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 sergeant posing as a 14-year-old girl contacted Fowler online. The two traded messages, and Fowler called in sick to work May 27 to meet the girl at Cherokee Park in St. Paul for sex.
Fowler was arrested when he arrived at the park with four condoms in his pockets.
After working as a temporary employee with Minneapolis schools from August 2011 to February 2013, Fowler was hired as a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Olson Middle School in August 2013 at a salary of $46,663.
He earned his teaching license about a year ago.
When given an opportunity to address the court, Fowler said he wanted a chance to start his life over.
"I won't be back," he said. "I just want to prove that I'm a good person."
"At least you had the sense not to get yourself involved with the students you were teaching," Bartscher said. "You made some really, really stupid choices. You lost the respect of a lot of people."
As part of his probation, Fowler must avoid any contact with underage girls, have his Internet use monitored by a device, abstain from drugs and alcohol, and register as a predatory offender for 10 years. He must also undergo random drug testing and provide a DNA sample.