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Posts about Public safety

St. Paul schools conducting internal investigation into criminal charges against assistant principal

Posted by: Chao Xiong Updated: July 21, 2014 - 3:49 PM

St. Paul Public Schools is conducting an internal investigation into the criminal case against an assistant principal who is charged with failing to report alleged sexual misconduct by a custodian.

District spokeswoman Toya Stewart Downey said Monday that the district is investigating the case against Jackson Elementary assistant principal Craig A. Guidry. Stewart Downey said Guidry is not working summer school. Few other details were available.

Guidry, 52, of Arden Hills, was charged July 14 in Ramsey County District Court with one count of misdemeanor failure to report the maltreatment of minors. The case stems from his tenure as assistant principal at Linwood Monroe Arts Plus during the 2011-2012 school year, during which time a student alleged that custodian Walter J. Happel smacked him in the buttocks and made a suggestive remark.

Beth A. Behnke, 48, of Burnsville, was principal of Linwood Monroe at the time and was also charged with the same count levied against Guidry. Linwood Monroe is a pre-K-8 school.

Behnke and Guidry are accused of failing to meet Minnesota's mandatory reporter law, which requires people such as educators and clergy to report suspected neglect and physical or sexual abuse of minors within 24 hours of learning about it.

Behnke is listed as principal at Falcon Heights Elementary School on the Roseville Area Schools website. Roseville Area Schools spokeswoman Karen Schaub said last week that news of the criminal case against Behnke was a "surprise" to the district.

"We are still, I guess, determining what's going on," Schaub said early last week.

Roseville Area Schools has not responded to multiple messages seeking an update on Behnke's job status.

Authorities believe that Guidry and Behnke had enough knowledge of Happel's alleged misconduct with underage boys to have known that the January 2012 butt-smacking incident merited a call to police. In December 2011, another boy had complained that Happel followed him into a bathroom, showed him his genitals and made a suggestive remark, according to the charges against Guidry and Behnke.

St. Paul Schools Assistant Superintendent Sharon Freeman sent a letter about the criminal investigation to parents on Friday, July 18.

"There have been recent news reports that mentioned Craig Guidry, assistant principal at Jackson Elementary," Freeman wrote. "I'm writing to provide information based on what's already been reported in the media because we feel it's important to communicate directly with families and staff of the Jackson Elementary community."

Freeman informed parents about the internal investigation and reminded them that the district has enacted new policies in light of the criminal charges filed against Happel. Those measures include regular walk-throughs of school buildings by principals and training on Minnesota's mandatory reporting law, among other efforts. 

Happel, 62, of Newport, started working for the district in 1984 and resigned in February when an 11-year-old student at Linwood Monroe said that Happel peeked at him while he was using a bathroom stall. That led to a number of reports to police and Happel being charged in eight cases in Ramsey County District Court. Six of his alleged victims are students at Linwood Monroe. Happel allegedly pressed his genitals onto one boy's buttocks in 2010 at Linwood Monroe, according to charges.

Two other victims include a family friend and a relative who were allegedly sexually assaulted about 30 years ago.

While investigating the cases against Happel, authorities uncovered district documents showing that Guidry and Behnke allegedly had knowledge of the December 2011 and January 2012 incidents, but never reported the smacking case to police. Multiple staff members had also raised concerns to school administrators about Happel following boys into bathrooms and giving students candy, according to the charges against Behnke and Guidry.

West Side Groceries owner charged for unsanitary conditions, no license

Posted by: Chao Xiong Updated: July 18, 2014 - 3:24 PM

Store owner Hamza A. Abualzain was arrested for license and food safety violations.

Inspectors allegedly found rodent droppings throughout West Side Groceries on a recent visit that led to the arrest and charging of owner Hamza A. Abualzain.

Abualzain allegedly ran the store at 605 Stryker Ave. without a license and under unsanitary conditions, according to charges filed Friday in Ramsey County District Court. Abualzain, 34, of Columbia Heights, is charged with one count of gross misdemeanor not having a food handler license, two counts of gross misdemeanor violating food safety by keeping food in unsanitary conditions and one count of misdemeanor violating food safety by misbranding food.

According to the complaint: Inspectors visited the store, also known as the Stryker Market, on July 10 and found the rodent droppings, dirty and broken ceiling tiles, inaccessible and dirty sinks, floors strewn with cigarette butts and trash and water dripping onto food. They also found food stacked on the floor in an inch of standing water and misbranded meat.

Charges show that authorities with the state Department of Agriculture also found similar problems during a routine December 3 inspection. At that time, they also found that raw food was not stored separately from ready-to-eat food and that the store had no sanitizer for cleaning utensils and surfaces that had contact with food.

Abualzain was ordered to rectify the problems and to renew his license, which was due to expire on March 15. But a follow-up inspection on Dec. 10 revealed no improvements, the charges said. Authorities gave Abualzain another order to fix the problems.

Stryker Market closes after owner arrested

Posted by: Nicole Norfleet Updated: July 11, 2014 - 5:11 PM

The Stryker Market on St. Paul's West Side has been shut down following the owner's arrest for possible food and licensing violations.

According to a post on the St. Paul Police Department's Central District Facebook page, the district's FORCE unit along with the gang unit assisted state inspectors in charge of dairy and food licensing on Thursday afternoon at the market located at 605 Stryker Ave.

"The end result was the market closing for now," the post said. "The owner was arrested for several violations related to licensing and the upkeep of the store. At this time the market is closed and will be closed for an undetermined amount of time."

According to a police report, the 34-year-old owner, of Columbia Heights, was arrested a little after 1 p.m. at the market under suspicion of food adulteration, unsanitary conditions and not having a food handler license. The Star Tribune doesn't normally name a suspect until he or she is charged. Sgt. Paul Paulos, spokesman for the St. Paul police, referred questions about the incident to officials with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, whom the police were assisting.

A spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department said that there wasn't any additional information that could be shared because of the open investigation.

The police's Facebook post said residents may see "activity inside the store in the coming days." The owner and employees can be at the store, but aren't allowed to sell or remove products.

Authorities searching for woman connected to Shoreview murder

Posted by: Nicole Norfleet Updated: July 11, 2014 - 4:00 PM

It's been almost a year since Hagos Tsegay Melake, of South St. Paul, was found fatally shot in the head in a Shoreview parking lot, and the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office has republicized a photo of a woman thought to be linked to his death in hopes somebody will identify her.

On Aug. 29, 2013, authorities responded to a report of someone slumped against a building in the 5700 block of Hamline Avenue N. Melake, who didn’t have identifying documents on him, was found lying in the parking lot. Nobody has been charged in his death.

Authorities are still searching for an unidentified woman who used Melake’s card at an ATM at a U.S. Bank office on W. Broadway Avenue in Minneapolis within hours of his death. The unidentified woman was picked up by the murder suspects at approximately 4:15 a.m. somewhere in the vicinity of W. Broadway Avenue. The sheriff's office considers the woman a witness, said Sgt. John Eastham, spokesman for the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office. 

"She's not considered a suspect of a crime at all," Eastham said.

Fliers with the woman's photo were handed out this week in Minneapolis, he said.

The night before his body was found, Melake took a bus a little after 10 p.m. from his home to downtown St. Paul, where he went by himself to the Hunan Garden Restaurant. When the restaurant closed around 1:45 a.m., a witness said Melake left in a vehicle with two people, which surveillance photos show as a man with a shaved head and a person with tattoos on his or her arm.

Melake was studying computer engineering at Inver Hills Community College. A few weeks before his death, Melake had been robbed of $3,800. He ended up with one of the robbers’ cellphones, which he used to try to contact his assailants to get his money back.

Crime Stoppers of Minnesota is offering up to $1,000 for information leading up to the arrests in Melake's death. Anyone with information can call 1-800-222-8477.

Former Minneapolis teacher was disciplined for swearing at students

Posted by: Chao Xiong Updated: July 10, 2014 - 1:51 PM

Joel D. Fowler

A former Minneapolis school teacher who pleaded guilty to trading messages about sex with a police investigator posing as a 14-year-old girl had a history of swearing at his students.

Joel D. Fowler, 23, of St. Louis Park, was reprimanded in February for his behavior and warned that if he didn't change, he could face further discipline and possible firing. When Fowler was charged May 29 in Ramsey County District Court in the undercover sex sting, the school district said that he had no history of complaints.

But personnel data the district released this week show that he did have complaints on his record, and that school officials were concerned about his behavior. He told a student to "get the [expletive] out of my room," said a Feb. 7 letter written by Evelyn Kimble, assistant principal at Olson Middle School.

Fowler was a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Olson Middle School. His employment was terminated on June 27.

"As you know, [Principal Karon Cunningham] and I discussed early on in the school year the need to be professional at all time with students," Kimble wrote in the letter addressed to Fowler. "At that time you used inappropriate language with students. It is unfortunate that this is the second occurrence in which you used inappropriate language with a student."

Kimble's letter did not elaborate on the previous incident. She urged Fowler to "stop, think, act responsibly."

"When you feel your control is slipping away, your first instinct is to talk louder and faster, you show you are nervous, scared and out of control," she wrote.

Fowler was arrested after he posted an online ad on Craigslist looking for sex with high schoolers that was discovered by St. Paul police. Fowler told a sergeant posing as a girl that his name was "Blake," and arranged to meet with her at Cherokee Park in St. Paul, where he was arrested as part of the undercover sting, Operation Broken Heart.

Fowler was charged with one count of engaging in electronic communication relating to or describing sexual conduct with a child, and soliciting a child through electronic communication to engage in sexual conduct. He pleaded guilty on June 26 to the first count and is scheduled to be sentenced on August 22.

Fowler was first hired as a temporary employee with the district in August 2011, and was hired fulltime at Olson Middle School in August 2013, earning a salary of $46,663.

By Chao Xiong

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