MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota college football coach said he wants to return to work now that a judge has dismissed prosecutors’ claims that video he took of his children playing after a bath amounted to pornography.
A judge sided with Todd Hoffner, head coach at Minnesota State-Mankato, by throwing out the child porn charges against him on Friday. The judge said the cellphone video was nothing more than children playfully dancing naked after a bath.
“I’m just so thankful to be waking up from this nightmare,” Hoffner said after the ruling, which came more than three months after the coach was escorted off a practice field and later arrested.
Now, Hoffner said, he wants to get back on the sideline. But it’s unclear when that may happen.
Hoffner remains on administrative leave and won’t be on the field Saturday when his undefeated Mavericks host Missouri Western in the Division II quarterfinals.
The university said he would remain on leave until its own investigation was complete, and school spokesman Don Benson said he had no timetable as to when that might happen.
Hoffner’s attorney, Jim Fleming, said he believes that university officials “know everything they need to know.”
Hoffner was charged after a school employee found the video on his university-issued cellphone and notified authorities. Hoffner had taken his problematic phone to work to be checked out.
Hoffner testified earlier that his three young children asked him to videotape a skit they had concocted after taking a bubble bath. His wife has defended him, as have supporters who even held candlelight vigils on his behalf.
A search of his home computer found no evidence of child porn, and social workers found no evidence that the couple’s children had been abused. Hoffner said he had never even watched the video.
In her 24-page ruling Friday, Blue Earth County District Judge Krista Jass said she didn’t find any evidence that the videos amounted to pornography.
“The videos under consideration here contain nude images of Defendant’s minor children dancing and acting playful after a bath. That is all they contain,” Jass wrote.
Fleming singled out the assistant county prosecutor who brought the charges, Mike Hanson, saying he “essentially argued that this was child pornography because he knows it when he sees it.”
But Hanson said his office was only trying to enforce a law enacted to protect children.
“No matter what the prosecutor does in a controversial case with a high-profile suspect, they will be criticized. We do not go looking for cases like this, they are brought to us,” the prosecutor said in a statement.
Hoffner, 46, of Eagle Lake, had been charged with one count of using minors in a sexual performance or pornographic work and one count of possessing child pornography.
The circumstances of the case, close on the heels of the Penn State scandal involving sexually abused children and authority figures who didn’t intervene, invited questions about whether the school overreacted.
Fleming said it was for “others to decide” whether the Penn State case played a part in how Hoffner’s case was handled.
“In light of all that’s happened, it would be hard for me to say it wasn’t at least a factor,” the defense attorney said.
This was Hoffner’s fifth year as head football coach at the school, where he had a 34-13 record. He led the Mavericks to the playoffs in 2008 and 2009, and a share of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference title in 2011. He was named NSIC coach of the year in 2009.
Word of the case’s dismissal was starting to spread Friday night on campus the school of about 15,000 students that’s among the state’s largest universities. Sam Moyer, a senior from the Rochester area, said the charges were not a frequent topic of discussion among students.
Still, he said, “I know quite a few people who thought this was just him making family memories — not a sexual act … It’s such a big conclusion to jump to, that he was some sexual predator. That ruins someone’s life.”