St. Paul school janitor defied orders to fix behavior a decade ago

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 21, 2014 - 8:34 PM
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Walter J. Happel, 62.

Photo: Ramsey County jail,

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Four months after he began working among students at St. Paul’s Roosevelt Elementary School, Walter J. Happel was reprimanded for improper conduct with children and for openly defying his supervisor and a principal.

Happel was told in a 2003 disciplinary letter that he could be fired for future transgressions, but he continued working alongside children in public schools for 11 more years despite that warning and two allegations of improper behavior with students in 2011.

Happel, 62, of Newport, was charged Thursday in Ramsey County District Court with one count of surreptitious interference with privacy for a 2014 incident. He allegedly peeked and smiled at a half-clothed 11-year-old boy in a bathroom stall at Linwood Monroe Arts Plus School on Feb. 19.

Happel started working for St. Paul public schools in 1984. In August 2003 he was transferred to Roosevelt, where he was reprimanded for giving candy to students and a digital camera to a boy he allegedly met with in a school bathroom.

According to his supervisor’s December 2003 letter, Happel ignored orders from the supervisor and the school’s principal to correct his behavior.

“Be advised this letter constitutes a written reprimand and continued violations will result in further disciplinary action, up to and including discharge,” Facility Operations and Maintenance General Manager David Moore wrote.

Moore, who no longer works for the district, called Happel’s defiance “insubordination.”

“One issue was that you were given a directive by the principal at Roosevelt Elementary to stop giving candy to students at that school; you did not follow that directive,” Moore wrote. “Another issue was that on December 5, 2003, I gave you a directive to not remove any personal belongings, except for emergency items with my approval, from Roosevelt Elementary; you did not follow that directive.”

Moore’s 2003 letter is the only time Happel was successfully disciplined during his 30 years with the district.

Happel is connected to six allegations of misconduct with children in St. Paul public schools. No charges have been filed in other cases, and police and the county attorney’s office have not said whether authorities are investigating school officials’ apparent failure to report the 2011 allegations.

In 2011, one student said Happel followed him into a bathroom regularly for a year, and one day spoke to him suggestively and shook his penis while the two stood next to each other at urinals.

The boy’s mother alerted school staff. She reported the incident to police when she left a follow-up message at the school and did not receive a response, according to charges in the 2014 case.

Another student said in 2011 that Happel swatted his buttocks and made a sexual comment. The incident was never reported to St. Paul police, the charges show.

Julie Schultz Brown, the district’s director of communications, marketing and development, said Happel was disciplined for the 2011 cases, but that the discipline was successfully grieved by the employees’ union and removed.

Happel started work at Linwood in May 2004, was placed on administrative leave on Feb. 20, 2014, and resigned effective March 4. Authorities learned that he kept a secret room in the building with intensifying gel, energy capsules and a bottle of testosterone.

Records show Happel was earning $24.62 an hour when he resigned.

 

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708

Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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