Typically I do not comment on every crime that happens in Rochester, but I will on this one as there has been outrage by some neighbors on how the city has handled the situation. Having reviewed the situation I find that handling of the situation to be even handed and appropriate.
Prior to neighbor, Julie Hoffman appearing before council I asked Police Chief Peterson to give the city council an update.
While we do have the lowest crime rate in 40 years, it is important to realize that still means there are thousands of crimes happening every year.
I will separate my response into the chronology of events leading to this complaint and my personal perspective as it relates to the decisions made.
In March of 2013 officers of the Rochester Police Department, acting through a confidential reliable informant, made two purchases of 0.6 and 0.5 grams of crack cocaine respectively from Christina Torres at 1570 8 ½ ST SE. Torres was later charged with 2 counts of 2nd degree drug sales. (Two separate purchases are standard practice in such cases in order to avoid a defense of entrapment.)
In January of 2014 the Rochester Police Department received an anonymous complaint of possible drug activity at 811 10 ST SW. An investigator conducted surveillance and searched the trash from this residence which yielded drug paraphernalia containing traces of heroin and methamphetamine. A subsequent search warrant resulted in 1.2 grams of heroin and 0.2 grams of methamphetamine. Christina Torres, who was now residing at this address, and her boyfriend, John Hofbauer, were subsequently charged with 5th degree drug possession.
Christina Torres has previous convictions for drug possession. John Hofbauer does not.
Neighbors of 811 10 ST SW were upset that this incident occurred in their neighborhood, some expressing strong dissatisfaction that the defendants were released pending trial. Harry and Julie Hoffman, neighbors of 811 10 ST SW, subsequently met with the County Attorney’s Office in regard to this issue. The meeting, described by Ms. Hoffman as “contentious”, concluded with Ms. Hoffman being escorted from the premises by Olmsted County Sheriff’s deputies.
Ms. Hoffman and Dr. Randall Walker, another neighbor of 811 10 ST SW, attended a County Board meeting in February to express their dissatisfaction with the circumstances and demand that the County Board take action. They were not satisfied with the result.
On March 6th Dr. Walker sent an email to the County Board reiterating that this neighborhood is in the middle of historic southwest Rochester and many of its residents are doctors that value safe neighborhoods for their children. He also articulated his view that, while the County Board relished the windfall funds that are going to be coming into Rochester as a result of the DMC project, they were not addressing their responsibility to see that “the true creators of the DMC” could raise their families safely.
On March 25th Mr. Hoffman sent an email to me indicating that he had spoken to a friend of his that works at the US Attorney’s Office and requested that I refer this case to him. I responded on March 26th indicating that it was inappropriate for me to do so.
Ms. Hoffman subsequently contacted the City Administrator requesting that she be put on the City Council agenda for the purpose of making a complaint against me.
Both the Police Department and the County Attorney’s Office have made a concerted effort to do everything we reasonably can to address this issue. Despite the criticism directed at the County Attorney’s Office, their response in charging and prosecuting these cases has been as aggressive as the rules of criminal procedure allow. The defendants in this case have not been “allowed” to do anything that their constitutional rights do not guarantee.
Likewise, the Police Department has made significant efforts to respond to this issue. It is part of the irony of this situation that the present concern would not exist had officers not been as aggressive as they were in their response to complaints from this neighborhood.
We have an obligation, however, to ensure that our response provides equal justice to all those we serve. As much as we wish it was not so, this case is hardly unique. While the neighbors of 811 10 ST SW are very justifiably concerned about the impact of this situation on their neighborhood, we cannot disregard the fact that equally or more serious incidents continue to occur throughout our community. Our response to those incidents cannot be different because of the address involved.
The concern for safety, particularly the safety of children, has been emphasized repeatedly in this discussion. On that point, we all agree. There is nothing more important. That concern, however, isn’t limited to southwest Rochester. Every parent has every right to expect that we will do all we reasonably can to protect their children. No one, however, has the right to expect more than that at the expense of others.
Frustration aside, the question here is whether the criminal justice response should be different for historic southwest Rochester than it should for the rest of the community. Acknowledging we have a wide range of property values, I believe we have always valued people equally.
Those values are the basis for my response to Mr. Hoffman’s request that this case be referred to the US Attorney’s Office for prosecution. I told him no because:
- I don’t have any authority to decide who prosecutes cases.
- The case in question does not come close to meeting the standards for federal prosecution. These standards reflect the intent to utilize federal resources for major drug trafficking offenses that typically involve multiple jurisdictions.
- It is unethical for me to advocate for the disparate treatment of criminal cases.
- It is unconstitutional to pursue unequal prosecution based on the affluence and/or social status of complainants.
- It is unethical to pursue disparate enforcement and/or prosecution based on personal friendships.
- I have an obligation to ensure that the resources of the criminal justice system is equally available to all we serve.
I believe that, despite these circumstances, Ms. Hoffman feels that the affluence of the neighborhood is not relevant to this discussion and it demonstrates “arrogance” on my part to suggest that it is. I will leave that judgement to you. I don’t believe, however, that the discussion has ever been about why southwest Rochester should receive more, it has always been about why any other part of our community should receive less.
I hope that is helpful – Roger
I have been and continue to be a huge support of our Police Department, top to bottom. I feel that the abuse the Mrs. Hoffman and Dr. Walker has directed at city staff, county staff, and elected officials is very disappointing.
I asked city and county staff what i could recommend to other neighbors that wanted to address the in a positive manner and this is what they suggested. Note I had to anonymize the comments because of the behavior of a couple of neighbors directed toward staff.
From the Rochester Police Department:
As I’m sure you know, our staff has tried very hard to work with Ms. Hoffman in a positive way. Our experience, similar to yours in your recent email exchange, is that Ms. Hoffman is not accepting of the legal, ethical and practical realties of this situation – and she has retaliated against anyone that has attempted to point those out.
We have put a significant amount of time and effort into addressing the situation at 811 10 ST SW. Despite that, we have not, and will not, meet Ms. Hoffman’s expectations as we cannot legally do what she demands. We cannot confiscate Ms. Torres’ house, we cannot hold her without bail, we cannot randomly search her or test her for drugs.
While Ms. Hoffman continues to publicly denounce us for incompetence or worse, our efforts have been focused on accomplishing exactly what she demanded at the April 6th council meeting: making a meaningful impact on drug trafficking in our community.
Since the arrest of Christina Torres we have continued our investigation and, acting on information developed from independent sources, we have arrested her supplier. Not with ½ gram quantities, but with a ½ pound quantity of heroin and methamphetamine. To put that in perspective, her source was selling over 200 times the volume that Ms. Torres is alleged to have sold.
This does not mean that 811 10 ST SW is no longer a concern. It does, however, do more to address the problem of illicit drugs in this and other neighborhoods in our community than expending resources on unrealistic demands that neither the Police Department nor the County Attorney can meet.
If there is a positive that can be relayed to other neighbors, it is that we have taken their concerns very seriously and that we and are continuing to do everything we reasonably can to address this and other drug problems throughout our community. The fact that our efforts are not always immediately obvious does not mean that those efforts are not being made. Likewise, constant unrealistic demands are not constructive – they only deplete the resources needed to combat these problems.
I don’t offer this with any illusion that the Hoffman’s will find this positive as I agree with [Redacted] – stating such will only result in further criticism. There may be others in the neighborhood, however, that are willing to give some consideration to this perspective.
From the Olmsted County
From a neighborhood perspective, they did what is best; they recognized some unusual behavior and reported it to law enforcement. At that point RPD investigated, got a search warrant and an arrest. The criminal process is moving painfully slow from their perspective, fairly normal for most cases. What Julie refuses to recognize is that the criminal process protects the defendants, not the neighborhood, so here, all decisions will lean in favor of the defendants. To the best of my knowledge, no further criminal activity is suspected at this location. Julie believes every car that passes down that street is a dealer…
We have great concern that she is taking any information she learns completely out of perspective. [redacted] talked to the Assistant U.S. Attorney she “quotes.” He has assured us he did not relay the information that Julie credits him with. Julie is also an attorney, yet she regularly misstates the law and rules of procedure.
My best advice is to leave it alone. Nothing you say will do anything more than fan the flames. To the extent Julie asks us for information, We only share what is in the public record. RPD is doing a great job combating the narcotic challenges this community (just like every community) faces, particularly the burgeoning heroin use. Shifting resources to this neighborhood just because they have a little affluence or ability to raise their voice would be inappropriate at best.
Finally I gave an update at the Historic SW Neighborhood meeting. I made time to come by even though I had to pick up a sick 7 year old girl a half hour later. I spent about 10 minutes updating the neighborhood on a development and explaining what the city has done regarding 811 10th street. Then despite it being communicated several times that I needed to leave I waited 10 more minutes listening to Mrs. Hoffman rant. I tried to interject many times and explain that i needed to leave only to be cut off by Mrs. Hoffman. Finally I got up and left. What stunned me with the sudden outrage expressed by Dr. Walker that I would just walk out. Even after explaining to him in an email why I had to leave he was still highly critical.
In short, I completely understand everyone finds it so difficult to work with Mrs. Hoffman or Dr. Walker on this issue. It was surreal seeing Dr. Walker claim this small drug case was going to end DMC. This was the last email that I sent.
I have been coming to SW neighborhood meetings for 7 years and doing my best on a wide variety of issues. I don’t know how many times you were told today that I had to leave but you still wanted to attack me for doing so. I left to pick up my sick 7 year old daughter. Sorry if you feel my priorities are misplaced.
As I understand it these are the facts today.
1) There is not a single staff person at the city, county, state, or federal level claiming that this situation is being mishandled. In addition, I have not heard of a single elected official that feels that any level of staff is mishandling their responsibilities. So shoot the messenger if you like.
2) Appropriate actions are being taken and you have the fortune of having an arrest where as in many cases that is even hard to do.
3) The city is aware of the issues and there have been no further instances of crime.
4) It is exceptionally rare that someone has to be removed from public building due to personal conduct. It is even rarer that I feel the need to anonymize comments to protect staff from further abuse.
5) If something does change, I will let you know.
Hear are my beliefs.
1) I feel fortunate to live in a community with this much opportunity and this little crime. Every morning I read a daily crime report to better understand my neighborhoods.
2) I remain committed to working for the safety of the neighborhood and working with neighbors who want to take proactive steps, however Mrs. Hoffman is probably too difficult of a person for me to work with (understanding that I am a difficult person myself).
3) While I am very well aware of Mrs. Hoffman’s interactions with staff, I am trying real hard not to publicize them, as such I will continue to keep my communications to a small group, I think this is a good professional cursory.
4) Being abusive does not help anyone. I do think that it is important that if you see something you report it, however that is very different than harassing staff because you don’t like the perceived response. Many staff members have advised me to keep my distance from Mrs. Hoffman and I realize now that I should heed that advice.
That is all.
Of course Dr. Walker just responded with more abuse.
I am appalled that we have 40 heroin houses in Rochester. I have lived here for 40 years, and I know there has never been anything like this here before.
We didn’t hear that in the “lowest crime in 40 years” report. If the staff at Mayo I know heard this, they would be outraged.
This fact alone could easily kill the entire DMC deal. There are plenty of state legislators who were already on the fence about Rochester getting a special deal. Rochester is not ready, legally, for the artificial growth of DMC, especially with city leadership in denial that we have a problem.
The DMC needs to be put on hold until there are zero heroin houses.
I stayed for the whole meeting, and I told the group that there are 39 other neighborhoods who wish they had someone advocating for them the way the Hoffman’s do for ours.
Don’t call Mrs. Hoffman’s due diligence abusive. You were elected to hear, serve and represent our citizens — not preach at, insult and walk out on them.
Very memorable and disappointing.
I hate to break it to Dr. Walker, but there are far more than 40 heroin houses in Rochester. At this point I am considering the matter closed from a council perspective as staff seems to have this under control.