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New records add context to ex-Franklin College president’s arrest and interrogation

Wisconsin police release arrest and interview video with fired president

By Erica Irish


STURGEON BAY, Wisconsin — Former Franklin College President Thomas Minar argued the dating app Grindr was social media, not a hookup site, and that he engaged in sexual conversations with someone he believed to be 15-years-old on the app in an effort to become a mentor.

New records released by the Sturgeon Bay Police Department add new context to previously shared law enforcement reports. They include footage of a police interview and the fired president’s Jan. 6 arrest outside the McDonald’s where police say he intended to meet someone he thought was a child.

Some of the released footage show police arresting Minar late at night in the McDonald’s parking lot and questioning him in a squad car on the way to a local jail. An officer can be heard in the video asking Minar who he intended to meet at the McDonald’s where he encountered police.

“A man,” Minar replied. The officer then asked, “who’s Tyler?”, referring to the alias an undercover officer used to speak with Minar over Grindr prior to the meeting. Minar said he believed Tyler was “a young man that lives in Sturgeon Bay.” He added he understood Tyler to be 19 from his profile on Grindr, though Tyler later claimed to be 15.

A separate video spans more than an hour of Brandon Shew, a police officer with Sturgeon Bay’s Internet Crimes Against Children, or ICAC, unit interrogating Minar in a Door County jail. Shew went undercover to investigate Minar while posing as a 15-year-old boy named Tyler.

In the first minutes of the video, Minar appears visibly shaken. He asks Shew for water before they begin the interview and as the officer reads him his Miranda rights, which includes assurances he can stop the interview at any time or ask that a lawyer be present.

Shew begins the interview by asking Minar who he is, where he is from and other details about his life. Minar says he is from Chicago. His voice cracks and he folds his hands, averting his eyes from Shew, as he says he is a college president.

Minar said the conversation with Tyler began mostly “out of boredom” and “for entertainment” while he was taking care of his 93-year-old mother, who lives in Sturgeon Bay. He said he wasn’t sure why he kept talking to the child when he learned Tyler was underage.

“I don’t know. Curiosity, boredom. Probably boredom as much as anything,” Minar said. “I think he kept talking too.”

Minar added he initially thought Tyler was a “young man, or college-aged man.” Chat records show Tyler told Minar he was 15, but his bio on the app listed his age as 19.

“It became clear it was a high school student when he said he was a high school student,” Minar said. “But when it started, I presumed he was over 18 years old.”

Shew asked Minar what he thought of Grindr, a dating app geared towards the LGBT community. Minar said he saw the app as a way to meet other people and have conversations, not sex.

“Obviously there are people who use it for sex…they could identify it as that,” Minar said. “But, I, I use it principally for chat, as you know, a married man,” he added, referring to his husband, a doctor at Northwestern University.

Shew walks Minar through specific points in the Grindr conversation, asking, among other details, why Minar thought it was appropriate to ask a child if they wear a condom or “go bare” when having sex during a sexually charged conversation. Minar argued he tried to be a “fatherly figure” by discussing condom use, adding he wanted to educate the child about safe sex.

Near the end of the interview, Shew asks Minar if anything sexual would have happened if a 15-year-old child did show up at the McDonald’s. Minar said he “would’ve drawn a line” before there was any “physical contact.” Shew questioned the answer, pointing to the sexually explicit conversation in his possession.

“I’m not attracted to children, to be clear,” Minar said, explaining he’s attracted to younger men and that he may have been with 18-year-olds in the past.

During the police interview, Minar’s black iPhone is visible on the table between him and Shew. Shew asked Minar if he would provide his phone’s passcode, which he did. Shew then asked if there was any possibility police would find explicit material involving underage children — including search terms, photos, videos and more.

“It’s conceivable but unlikely,” Minar said after a pause. He explained anything on his phone of that nature would’ve appeared there without his knowledge. He admitted to watching pornography on the popular website Pornhub, but denied visiting other websites for pornography.

Separate records obtained by The Franklin also add new details to messages, photos and videos Sturgeon Bay police found after searching his personal iPhone. The police used this search to add 12 counts of child pornography possession to their case against Minar in March.

In addition to locating photos and videos that depicted children involved in sex acts, the officer who conducted the search wrote he found an extended conversation between Minar and an unnamed man who appears to live in the United Kingdom. The officer writes the man from the United Kingdom “might have had sex with Minar when he was 16 years of age,” and that Minar “had expressed interest in photographs” of the man “from when he was 13 years of age.”

The officer wrote in the report he exported large parts of the conversation between Minar and the man. While the chats did not contain child pornography, the officer said it did include graphic imagery of bestiality.

The new records confirm several law enforcement agencies have investigated Minar in addition to Sturgeon Bay police, including the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

Minar faces a range of charges related to alleged child sex crimes, including child pornography possession, using a computer to facilitate a sex crime, child enticement and exposing a child to harmful materials and narrations. All are felony crimes in Wisconsin.

An attorney for Minar did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But attorney Brett Reetz has previously said Minar maintains his innocence.

Soon after police arrested Minar, the Franklin College Board of Trustees fired him. College officials confirmed this week they continue to work on an internal investigation into Minar, but declined to discuss the investigation until the criminal matters are resolved.  

Minar waived his right to preliminary hearings for the charges Thursday. An arraignment, where Minar is expected formally enter a plea on the charges, is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. CST Oct. 6.


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