WOODSTOCK – A Huntley special-education teacher and cheerleading coach was acquitted Wednesday on charges of stealing a student’s cellphone and iPod.
Kimberlee L. Hoffman, 43, was charged with theft, a misdemeanor. After a bench trial, in which a judge determines the verdict rather than a jury at the defendant’s request, McHenry County Judge Charles P. Weech found her not guilty.
The student testified she left her iPod Touch and Motorola Atrix cellphone in a bathroom stall at Huntley High School on Sept. 5. She said she saw Hoffman enter the stall, realized that she had forgotten the items and saw Hoffman leave. The student said she didn’t stop Hoffman and ask for her things back.
Hoffman’s attorney, Dan Hofmann, who is of no relation, said that his client grabbed the items and put them in her cheerleading bag, told several coaches that she had found them and then forgot about them.
It was homecoming, a very busy time of year, and the items simply were not a priority, he said. “She forgot, just like [the student] forgot.”
In the meantime, the student’s parents had repeatedly sent texts, called the phone and tracked it using a GPS application.
It wasn’t until Hoffman was approached by police five days later that she said she had the items, and she eventually turned them over.
The iPod had been wiped clean and restored to its factory settings, which Hoffman’s son testified that he did, thinking it was his sister’s.
Prosecutors said that the time lapse, as well as Hoffman’s decision not to turn in the items to a nearby lost-and-found or make any effort to find the owner, were evidence that she didn’t intend to give them back.
But Hofmann, the defense attorney, said the entire case was evidence of a “nanny state.” He criticized both police and prosecutors, whom he said bowed to the wish of the student’s parents to have his client charged.
Judge Weech said the case was an example of how quickly life can change and clearly a “coulda or shoulda” situation.
There was a protocol for lost items by turning them over to the office, but Hoffman made a choice not to follow it, Weech said. “Could Mrs. Hoffman taken 30 seconds to turn the items in?” he said. “She could have, clearly.”
However, one of the elements that prosecutors had to prove was that Hoffman intended to permanently deprive the owner.
They did not do that, Weech said.