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COLUMN: A Malat Musing: 'Due Process' is MIA

Updated: 05/06/2014 1:31 PM
Created: 04/24/2014 3:00 PM KSTP.com
By: Phil Malat

We are a nation of laws. As such, the American psyche should always stubbornly adhere to the belief that everyone - without exception - is innocent until proven guilty and that that guilt can only be established through proper due process.

But alas ­­-- there appears to be a serious chink in that armor of protection.

Minnesota State University, Mankato head football coach Todd Hoffner recorded some videos of his three children in gleeful play on a BlackBerry cell phone owned by the university. 

On Aug. 10, 2012, Hoffner turned the BlackBerry over to a school technician for repair.  The coach also requested that pictures and video be made available to transfer from the BlackBerry to another device.  On August 14 the videos of Hoffner’s children were turned over to school officials due to what was perceived as a lack of proper bubble bath attire during their horseplay.

As this outrage made its way up the food chain at this institution of higher learning, someone along the way, in their infinite wisdom, deemed the videos to be pornographic.  The police were called and on August 17, Hoffner was escorted from practice and placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

Four days later on Aug. 21, 2012, Hoffner was arrested and charged with two felonies: using minors in a sexual performance or pornographic work and possession of child pornography.

On Nov. 30, 2012, the felony charges were dismissed.  The judge described the minor children’s activities after a bath as simply kids being "playfull and silly. That is all (the videos) contain."

Mankato’s response to Hoffner's exoneration was to reassign him to an administrative position in December of 2012 before they fired him on May 8, 2013. 

Hoffner challenged his dismissal through arbitration.  He was cleared of any and all wrongdoing and was reinstated as the school's head football coach in April of 2014; with back pay compensation that exceeded his lost salary.

An hour and half drive northward up U.S Highway 169 from Mankato to the Minneapolis public school district finds Minnesota State’s behavior reinforced. 

In August of last year Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendant Bernadeia Johnson fired newly hired Washburn High School Principal Patrick Exner.  His dismissal was based solely upon allegations that he tampered with student standardized tests at Ubah Medical Academy in Hopkins, Minnesota. There was no investigation conducted and no proof provided of any wrongdoing before his firing, even though Exner categorically denied the charges.

Exner said: "I reflect on the events of the last two weeks in utter dismay that under the veil of anonymity an individual was given the power to disrupt the plans for leadership at Washburn High School and leave me with an uncertain future."

Unless we are prepared to discard the sacred principles of “innocent until proven guilty” and “due process,” those guilty of violating those sacred principles must be held to the harshest levels of accountability – for it is the only way our system of justice can survive and flourish.  

"When you arrest somebody and you have not done any investigation or very little, and you're ignoring the evidence before you, I think we need to really look at that issue and the abuse of power that can occur. The lack of accountability by our police and our district county attorney ... their job is to protect the public, not destroy families." ~ Melodee Hoffner, wife of fired football coach Todd Hoffner

Phil Malat is a columnist for KSTP.com


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