By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Describing the past three months as a nightmare, Minnesota State University Head Football Coach Todd Hoffner said Friday he was pleased that a Blue Earth County judge had the courage to dismiss child pornography charges that had been wrongly filed against him.
Now he and his wife, Melodee, are focusing on finding a way to make sure another family isn’t put through the same nightmare by what he described as a “small group of people” who have the power to harm an innocent person. Hoffner also said he’s not yet sure how that can be accomplished.
“The last 102 days have been long, painful and a nightmare my wife and I have had to endure,” Hoffner said Friday while making his first public statement about the charges. “Our lives have been turned upside down. We have suffered considerable mental, physical and emotional hardship.
“Today our minds are filled with more questions than answers. Throughout this process we’ve wondered how this process could have been handled differently, but, more importantly, how can we prevent this from happening to another innocent family in the future.”
Hoffner was placed on administrative leave and escorted off an MSU football practice field Aug. 17. Two nude videos of his three children, between the ages of 5 and 9, were found on the university-issued phone by an IT employee.
At the time, Hoffner didn’t know why he had been placed on leave. That changed four days later when he was arrested Aug. 21 for charges of creating and possessing child pornography. He spent the night in jail before he was brought into court, wearing a bright orange jail jumpsuit, and formally charged the following day. He posted a $40,000 bond for his release after the hearing.
Hoffner didn’t take any questions after the press conference at the Maschka, Riedy and Ries law offices in downtown Mankato. His lead attorney, Jim Fleming, said Hoffner’s employment status with the university hasn’t been resolved. In a news release the university said its investigation is pending and state law prohibits the release of any additional information at this point.
Fleming said Hoffner and his family hope to stay in the community and he wants his job back.
There has been support from many in the community, Hoffner said. An effort by school officials and others to shield their children from what was happening was effective at first. That became more difficult after Hoffner took the unusual step of testifying on his own behalf during an Oct. 31 hearing for the motion to dismiss the charges.
“It will take a village to raise these children and keep them from the nightmare,” Hoffner said.
During that hearing, he admitted to making the videos. He said his children had been taking a bath and he had no idea what they were going to do when they asked him to use his phone to record a skit.
Hoffner said Friday he’s sorry he made the “innocent and harmless” video due to the problems it has caused.
“At the time, I just thought I was being a good dad,” he said.
Fleming said he was troubled by one investigator’s incorrect description of what Hoffner said during a brief comment that is recorded on the video. Jerry Billiar, a Blue Earth County sheriff’s investigator, said in his report that Hoffner can be heard telling the children to “Do it again.” That information was used to justify a search warrant used to search Hoffner’s Eagle Lake home. No other evidence was found when computers taken from the home were searched.
In her ruling dismissing the charges, District Court Judge Krista Jass said Hoffner can only be heard saying, “Wow. Are you guys done,” and, “Is the show over.”
“At no time during either video does (Hoffner) direct the children’s actions; in fact, all of (Hoffner’s) statements on the videos are of a passive and inquisitorial nature,” Jass said in a memorandum explaining her order. “The camera never zooms in on any child or any area of any child. The focus of the videos is the children, generally, and not their genitalia. The children appear happy and playful in both videos.”
Fleming also said Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Mike Hanson allowed the videos to be taken out of context as the case progressed. He pointed out that Hanson used a well-known legal quote that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart used in a 1964 decision about obscenity. Whether or not Hoffner’s videos were illegal depended, in part, on them being obscene or lewd.
When Hanson used Potter’s quote in his argument against Fleming’s motion to dismiss the charges, he cut it short. This is how Hanson concluded his written argument:
“Potter Stewart described his threshold test for obscenity as such: I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description (hard-core pornography); and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligently doing so. But I know it when I see it ...”
“Your honor, the state has provided the evidence to you. You will know it when you see it . . .”
Fleming pointed out Friday that Jass didn’t see it — and Hanson used an ellipsis to leave out an important part of the famous quote in his filing.
“Like much of this case, it was taken out of context,” Fleming said.
The full sentence at the end of Stewart’s quote said: “But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”