The Blue Earth County attorney’s prosecution of the Todd Hoffner child pornography case fell far short of the professional and legal standards expected in a serious and high-profile case.
When Minnesota State University head football coach Todd Hoffner was accused and arrested for the crime of creating and owning child pornography, the community was not only shocked but needed answers. It also needed its elected county attorney to proceed with expertise, with thoroughness and with an eye toward checking and double checking its own methods and evidence.
That meticulous procedure, attention to detail and self-evaluation was largely missing in the prosecution of Hoffner. The charges were justifiably dismissed, but Hoffner, his family and the community suffered as a result. Justice also suffered.
In a short statement after Judge Krista Jass correctly threw out the charges against Hoffner, assistant county attorney Mike Hanson seemed to acknowledge the case’s weakness. He said he disagreed with the ruling but apparently not strongly enough to appeal. He cited criticism and media coverage. He concluded: “We do not go looking for cases like this, they are brought to us.”
Blue Earth County Attorney Ross Arneson also told media in response to criticism that the county has 500-600 felony cases a year, almost suggesting that this was just one more case for the county to process expediently and efficiently as it might dispense of a routine assault case.
But the nature of the case and the nature of the charges demanded a much better effort from an office that is charged with not only enforcing the laws and bringing forth cases for a jury, but acting as a minister of justice.
We find no fault with Minnesota State University officials for turning over video of naked children to police that they found on Hoffner’s university-issued cellphone. We find very little fault with police who, upon examining the videos, decided they needed to consult the county attorney. Police and the county attorney also were justified in seeking a search warrant of Hoffner’s house to see if there was more evidence. All of these actions were the right thing to do.