By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — A Blue Earth County Human Services investigation that found no evidence of child sexual abuse by coach Todd Hofner has prompted his attorneys to again request that child pornography charges against him be dropped.
Saying the Minnesota State University head football coach wants to return to his job with the team, his attorneys issued a statement Monday saying they want Blue Earth County Attorney Ross Arneson to dismiss a felony case against their client.
Hoffner, 46, has been on paid administrative leave from the university since he was escorted off a field during practice Aug. 17.
He is accused of using his young children to make three short videos, which prosecutors say contain child pornography, on a cellphone that had been issued to him by the university.
The Maschka, Riedy & Ries Law Firm said Monday that a second formal request to dismiss the charges was sent to Arneson Sept. 27. That was after Hoffner’s attorneys received confirmation from law enforcement that no child pornography had been found on computers taken from Hoffner’s house in Eagle Lake. They had also learned an investigation by Blue Earth County Human Services found no evidence Hoffner’s children had been sexually abused.
Arneson said he couldn’t make specific comments about the Hoffner case because he is concerned about pretrial publicity. He also said, at this point, he expects Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Michael Hanson to bring the case to trial.
“I have a great deal of confidence in Mr. Hanson’s experience and judgment,” Arneson said. “This last year our felony caseload included three murder cases. I did not comment to the media on any of them, so why would I comment on this case?
“Prosecutors have to be careful that they do not make pretrial statements that can contaminate the jury pool. We expect that the evidence in this case will be presented to a jury for their determination.”
The news release issued by Hoffner’s law firm cites letters were sent to Hoffner and his wife, Melodee, by Holly Barkeim, a Blue Earth County social worker. Barkeim’s letters said Human Services had received a report that the Hoffners’ children might have been sexually abused by their father. An investigation was completed and no evidence of sexual abuse was found, according to the letters.
“We did not determine that maltreatment occurred or that child protective services are needed,” Barkeim’s letter to Todd Hoffner said. “The reasons for the determinations are: Interviews conducted with your children revealed no further information about the nature of the videos found on your cell phone and did not indicate sexual abuse was occurring. An offer of services was extended to your family, but at this time Blue Earth County Human Services is not determining that child protective services are needed.”
State law calls for county welfare departments and criminal investigators to work together when sexual assault allegations are made within a family. Hoffner’s lead attorney, Jim Fleming, said it doesn’t make sense for the county to find no sexual abuse occurred while Arneson’s office moves forward with the case against Hoffner.
The first request to drop the charges was made after Fleming reviewed three short videos that were found on Hoffner’s MSU-issued cellphone when he brought the phone in for repairs. One of the videos showed Hoffner’s three children, a boy and two girls between the ages of 5 and 9, dancing naked and touching themselves. Another shows the girls dancing naked as the boy enters wearing only a football helmet. The third video shows one of the girls being woke up to go to the bathroom at night.
All of the videos are cited as probable cause for the felony charges of using minors in a sexual performance and possessing child pornography that led to Hoffner’s Aug. 21 arrest. A sexual performance can include masturbation and “lewd exhibitions of the genitals,” according to state law.
Melodee Hoffner said the videos were not sexual and simply showed innocent family fun.
“The charges against my husband are ridiculous and baseless,” she said during an Aug. 27 press conference. “My family does what every family does — we take videos and pictures of our kids in all their craziness. My husband would not ever abuse our children or any other child.”
Fleming said the first request to drop charges was made directly to Hanson. The second request was also initially made to Hanson. When the two sides met to discuss the issue, Arneson was at the meeting and he, too, was asked to dismiss the charges. Fleming said Arneson agreed to take a look at the case, then later told Fleming to deal with Hanson.
Fleming is in the process of filing a motion to have the judge dismiss the charges, but the soonest there would be a hearing on that motion is Oct. 31. When you consider the result of the Human Services investigation and the lack any other child pornography in Hoffner’s possession, that’s too long to wait to have the charges dismissed, Fleming said.
Hoffner posted a $40,000 bond for his unconditional release from jail after he made his first court appearance for the charges. He has been volunteering with youth football and refereeing during his time away from his coaching job, his law firm’s statement said.