A former Prior Lake High School student will not be tried as an adult in a child pornography case involving victims at Prior Lake High School and Hidden Oaks Middle School, District Judge Christian Wilton ruled Friday, Oct. 4.
The now 18-year-old defendant will receive an extended juvenile jurisdiction, meaning his case will be handled by the juvenile court system until he turns 21.
The man faces 12 felony charges of taking photographs and video recordings of women and children in the bathrooms at the schools in December and January, according to Scott County District Court documents. He was 17 at the time of arrest.
Prior Lake Police said the investigation into the defendant will continue for several months.
Investigators identified at least 33 victims ranging from 10 to 44 years old when charges were filed; the charges relate to actions against 10 girls only. The alleged offenses span Prior Lake, Savage and Lakeville, according to court briefs from County Attorney Theresa Flahven.
Wilton’s ruling allows a stayed adult court sentence, meaning the man could face jail or prison time if he is convicted and doesn’t follow the conditions of his juvenile sentence, such as by violating probation, before turning 21.
The ruling was a defeat for the state. Flahaven in April notified the court that she intended to prosecute the man as an adult.
Flahaven argued the seriousness of the crimes, the number of victims and the man’s history of accelerating behavior made the adult court system the best venue to handle the case and protect public safety.
The man told investigators he began secretly photographing women and girls’ feet and then advanced to filming people changing and in public restrooms over the course of three years, according to court records.
Defense attorney Charles Clas in a brief filed in September said the state was trying to fearmonger with “what-ifs and worst-case scenarios” into certifying his client as an adult.
His client “cannot be ordered to be on probation for the rest of his life,” Clas wrote, and the extended juvenile jurisdiction gave his client the best chance for treatment.
The man is currently enrolled in an Edina sex-treatment program for young adults called Steps for Change. He began treatment on June 10.
Flahaven argued the defense was putting too much faith in the program to produce a quick and adequate change in the man. She also said that Clas’s case relied on the idea that any future offenses by his client would be caught “before it is too late” and would result in an adult sentence.
The defendant’s probation officer, Stacy Peterson, told the court that in his experience, juvenile offenders “do not always have their EJJ status revoked or adult sentence imposed even if they were found to have violated their probation.”
In his order, Wilton wrote the state failed to prove that keeping the case in juvenile court “would not serve public safety.” The judge concluded that “EJJ best serves public safety with the available programming and punishment, including the possibility of an executed adult sentence.”
An ongoing investigation
Flahaven in September wrote that even with the long list of victims and charges against the defendant, the “full extent of (the defendant’s) crimes is still unknown.”
Prior Lake Police said the recent ruling has little impact on their work, which has involved four law enforcement agencies and more than 20 officers and agents.
“Portions of the investigation are still ongoing,” Detective Josh Rozga said Wednesday. “It would be a question for the county attorney’s office as to whether it will effect future charging decisions.”
During the certification hearings in early August, Rozga testified that the investigation would not conclude for at least eight months due to pending data requests from a social media platform.
The results could help investigators determine whether or not any of the pornographic work allegedly created by the defendant and stored on his phone and school iPad went online.
Investigators said they know the man maintained several Youtube accounts that included videos of women and girl’s feet but have yet to find any sexual images.