Minneapolis cop suspected of sexually assaulting minors he met online
A Minneapolis police officer is suspected of sexually assaulting underage girls he solicited online.
Bradley James Schnickel, 32, of Andover was arrested Wednesday, Feb. 6, and was being held at the Anoka County Jail on suspicion of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
As of Thursday, he had not been charged.
A message left with family members Thursday at Schnickel’s home was not returned. Records show Schnickel is married and has a 2-year-old child.
Some 9,000 pages of documents from an undisclosed social media site subpoenaed by investigators reportedly detail Schnickel’s efforts to form online relationships with girls in Anoka County, said Cmdr. Paul Sommer, spokesman for the county sheriff’s office.
Some said that at least three of the minors — ranging in age from 12 to 17 — eventually met Schnickel and engaged in sexual activity with him.
Sommer said the investigation could uncover more girls.
“The contact is reported to be consensual, but because of the age of the children, it doesn’t matter,” Sommer said.
He said none of the girls reportedly was threatened or hurt by Schnickel.
“If the alleged criminal charges are true, it is horrific and goes against everything the Minneapolis Police Department represents,” Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau said in a statement. ” Our community deserves better, and the members of this department deserve better.”
Schnickel joined the Minneapolis force as a patrol officer in January 2008,
police spokesman Sgt. Stephen McCarty said.
Schnickel’s most-recent assignment was to patrol precincts downtown and in the city’s north and northeast. He was placed on paid home assignment Jan. 24 after the department learned of the allegations, McCarty said.
An internal affairs investigation was under way.
Since the alleged activity did not take place while Schnickel was working, the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis is not involved in defending him against the allegations, said John Delmonico, the union’s president.
Attorney Fred Bruno, who often represents police officers, said a representative from his office would attend a bail hearing for Schnickel on Friday at the Anoka County Courthouse, but he said he had not been retained as the officer’s lawyer.
Before joining the Minneapolis force, Schnickel served as a police officer in Glencoe, Minn., from 2005 to 2007, according to his employment record with Minneapolis police.
He also spent time as a park patrol agent for the Minneapolis Park Police and briefly served as a cadet for the Hennepin County sheriff’s office.
He was nominated for a Medal of Commendation in 2011 for tackling an armed man who fled after Schnickel and a fellow officer approached him loitering near Plymouth Avenue and James Avenue North in Minneapolis.
In the nomination letter, a fellow officer said Schnickel “ignored his personal safety while running after the man,” and did an “excellent job taking the male down and into custody.”
While with the Minneapolis police, he was investigated three times for violating department policies on search and seizure, force and force and code of conduct. His record shows no disciplinary action was taken in any of those instances.
Brooklyn Center police began investigating Schnickel after getting a complaint from a parent that the person’s underage daughter had been inappropriately communicating with him via a social media site.
Because he lives in Andover, the case was turned over to the Anoka County sheriff’s office.
Using Schnickel’s IP address, investigators tracked where he was sending messages online, which eventually exposed his relationships with other minors, Sommer said.
In most cases, he used his contact with one girl to build trust with another, Sommer said.
The sheriff’s office withheld the name of the social media site Schnickel allegedly used.
Given children’s vulnerability online, Neil Nelson, a retired St. Paul police officer who led the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force until 2010, said it is critical that parents monitor their Internet activity.
“If your child wasn’t coming home every night on time and you didn’t know where they’d been, you would check up on them to make sure they hadn’t been in trouble,” Nelson said. “The same goes for when they’re sitting alone in their rooms on the computer. … You have to figure out where they’ve been and who’ve they’ve talked to.”
He encouraged parents to identify a trusted adult their children can turn to if they feel uncomfortable about an interaction they’ve had with someone online.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found one in seven children between ages 10 and 17 received a sexual solicitation over the Internet, according to the organization’s 2006 report.
Four percent were eventually asked to meet the solicitor somewhere or were contacted by the person via the phone or mail.
Staff researcher Patricia Thraen and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Sarah Horner can be reached at 651-228-5539. Follow her at twitter.com/hornsarah.