Suite’s vandal pays $19,000 in restitution

A former student enters an agreement with prosecutors

More stories from Winter Heffernan

April 3, 2023

Photo by Miles Plueger

The Suites on upper campus.

On Monday, December 5, Zachary A. Cunningham, a 21-year-old student at UW-Eau Claire, plead guilty to felony criminal damage of property as part of a guilty plea agreement.

According to the Leader-Telegram, Cunningham has entered an agreement with prosecutors. For his charge to be dismissed, Cunningham must pay a $300 fine and $23,374 in restitution. Cunningham has already paid about $19,000 of the restitution. 

Cunningham must also commit no new crimes, give 50 hours of community service, write a letter of apology and have no contact with UW-Eau Claire property.

“I know people focus on that this was a student and the high dollar amount, but a lot of this comes down to bad decision-making,” campus police Lieutenant Chris Kirchman said. “He put a big speed bump into his life.”

On Feb. 2, Cunningham entered a restricted area in the Suites. The Leader-Telegram reported that he had purchased service keys from Amazon. These keys could be used in the Suites elevator to access the rooftop and the basement, both restricted areas.

Cunningham claims he had used the keys before to explore, but on this occasion, this visit ended with criminal damages. 

According to Kirchman, Cunningham used a rideable floor cleaner to ram into steel fire doors, bending them. Cunningham also destroyed keycard readers, exposed wiring, used a fire extinguisher, shredded noise insulation foam and spray paint was used to vandalize the floor.

According to the Leader-Telegram, during the vandalism, Cunningham recorded three Snapchat videos, one of him riding the floor scrubber, one captioned “College is sick bro” and one of him on the roof of Suites.

Objects were also missing from the basement according to Kirchman. Missing keys and a custodial radio were recovered a day after the vandalism. A staff housing jacket was stolen also but was not recovered until police had a warrant on Cunningham.

The first person to discover the damage was Suites custodian, Su Miner.

“It was approximately 5:30 a.m. and I went into my break room,” said Miner. “ I found it in shambles.”

Not immediately noticing all of the damage, Miner called her supervisor to see if anyone had worked the night before. After noticing all the damage, Miner went upstairs, concerned that whoever did the destruction might still be in the basement.

“Our department handled the full investigation,” Kirchman said, “We used video footage, card reader systems and interviews. A lot of man hours were put into this.”

Cunningham was served a search warrant on Feb. 16 and arrested. 

According to the Leader-Telegram, Cunningham never explained a reason for why he went to the basement other than, “I don’t know.”

“Without that cooperation and the various avenues we had to investigate, this would have been a lot harder to solve,” Kirchman said, “$23,000 is a lot of money for housing. It’s a lot of money for anybody. If we weren’t able to find somebody, that cost would be passed on to future students.”

Heffernan can be reached at [email protected].