Thursday, April 24, 2014

false accusation up-ends life for Mankato coach, even after exoneration

In 2012, a Minnesota University-Mankato coach was arrested on suspicion of producing and possessing child pornography. About three months later, the charges were dropped. End of story? Not quite.

Twenty days after the charges were dropped, the coach was suspended for viewing pornography on a university computer and for letting his wife use his work computer. After the suspension, he was reassigned to an administrative position and ultimately fired.

Months later after the coach found another job, an arbitrator held that the firing was not justified. More than one person used the computer so they couldn't know who downloaded porn. The arbitrator also said that the wife probably shouldn't have used the computer but no one should be fired because she did.

The facts of the story are simple. The effect of the original charges on the coach's life are complicated.
John Harrington, a longtime Mankato resident and Minnesota State-Mankato booster, told USA TODAY Sports at the time: "The damage is done. His reputation is tainted. On the tip of everybody's tongue is 'Sandusky.' "
After the charges were dropped, the coach was seen as tainted. He was wrongly accused and then exonerated but still seen as a possible child molester.
[The coach] says he and his wife ... are grateful for the support from the community. Dennis Hood, a longtime Minnesota State-Mankato booster and former president of the Touchdown Club, which serves as the fund-raising arm for the football program, was one of those. He says as people began to learn more about the charges, the reaction from many was, 'Golly, is this all there is?'" 
But Hood also says, "Right up until a couple of weeks ago (when the arbitrator ruled in Hoffner's favor), people were saying, 'There's got to be something. There's got to be something.' But there really wasn't."
This is what the current sex offender hysteria has wrought: unthinking emotional responses that have a facile power to ruin lives.

The laws that mandate reporting of illegal images and the hysteria around sex offenders have encouraged people to think of children in sexual terms. Instead of seeing videos of naked children playing (images found on the coach's phone), the technician who found and reported the videos thought of children and sex.

Do not think I am blaming the technician alone. Law enforcement looked at the videos. The prosecutor looked at the videos. Presumably, a grand jury also looked at the videos. 

At any one of those points, someone should have questioned if there was proof that this was child pornography instead of running with the case because, well, it could be.

At any one of those points, someone should have said, "Golly, is this all there is?"

Fortunately, the judge recognized kids' antics as kids' antics and dismissed the charges.

The coach spent a great deal of money defending himself and uprooted his family for another job. After the arbitrator found the firing unjustified, the coach has returned to his position at Minnesota University-Mankato. 

I have said it before, writing about another man cleared of his charges where the story ended horrifically: 
This is what comes of instilling a fear of sex offenders and pretending that all sex offenders are dangerous.
I will add that this is what comes of thinking that all pictures of naked children are pornographic. There was no need--at all--to put this coach and his family through the wringer for silly family videos.

Too bad for him, the laws make it all too easy to do just that.

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