What Is True/Slant?
275+ knowledgeable contributors.
Reporting and insight on news of the moment.
Follow them and join the news conversation.

Dec. 29 2009 - 11:35 am | 373 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

Should a Nebraska school have used MySpace to peg a teacher as a potential rapist?

As a 14-year-old freshman at Bloomfield Community Schools in Knox County, Nebraska, Caitlin Marvin was struggling in math. A teacher at the school, John Hoffman, offered to tutor her. Hoffman, who was in his late 20s, initially tutored her at school but then shifted the lessons to his home. And the lessons shifted from math tutoring to sexual sessions, at least 20 episodes of “physical, digital, genital and oral, sexual contact” over a five month period according to a court complaint [PDF].

In March 2009, Marvin, who had become depressed and withdrawn, told her mother about the sex with her teacher. Hoffman was arrested and pleaded no contest. He was sentenced to 18 to 25 years in October.

But the case is not over. Now Marvin’s parents are suing the school for hiring a sexual predator. They say that the school should have checked out Hoffman’s MySpace page and realized he was obsessed with sex, in part because his name there was “John Pecker Hoffman.”


In their complaint, they say:

In at least his MySpace publication, Hoffman named himself “John Pecker Hoffman” and charged his self description on his MySpace page with sexual allusions, innuendo, and references…. Had Bloomfield reasonably investigated Hoffman upon hiring him, and upon rehiring him annually, it would have discovered these matters and would not have hired him. If Bloomfield knew these things and hired Hoffman anyway, it did so negligently. These facts were all sufficient to impart notice to a reasonably prudent school district employer of Hoffman’s predatory sexual interests and predilections and propensity for sexual misconduct, but they were not reasonably observed or discovered.

via Courthouse News Service

They also say that Bloomfield should have realized that Hoffman was “immature, unprofessional and had bad judgment” when he made significant changes to his appearance including, “tattoos, pierced body parts and a ‘Mohawk’ hair cut.”

I can’t imagine this lawsuit will get very far, though I’m sure jurors would be sympathetic to the statutory rape of Caitlin Marvin. Suggesting that people shouldn’t be hired as teachers because they have tattoos and piercings is not something the legal system would endorse. The MySpace question is a trickier one.

I’ve written before about the proposition by privacy advocates that it be illegal for employers to check job applicants’ Facebook profiles. Some say that it should be like a credit check, that employers have to get your permission before they go searching.

Even if the school had done that in this case, could they really have not offered a job to Hoffman because of a silly MySpace name? If they had, Hoffman likely would have had a valid complaint about his rights being violated.

As I read the Marvins’ complaint, I wondered about the role of the parents. They allowed their daughter to go to a teacher’s home to be tutored without performing a background check on the guy. That is the beauty of the Internet and social networking sites. The Marvins could have checked out Hoffman’s MySpace page as easily as the school could have. And then found their daughter a new math tutor stat.

The Marvins are seeking $500,000 in damages and are represented by David Domina, a trial attorney with an impressive record.

Meanwhile, parents everywhere may want to get their kids’ class schedules and start Facebook/MySpace stalking their teachers.


One T/S Member Comment Called Out, 5 Total Comments
Post your comment »
  1. collapse expand

    Oh my word, with background checks so cheap and easy these days I can’t believe they didn’t do one on this guy first. I have children and I check on everyone I don’t know who will be alone with my kids.

    Call me paranoid but when it comes to my kids I will not wait for something to happen first.

    Public Records Lookup

  2. collapse expand

    First off, honey, get your facts straight. I am not a part of the case, but I do know of the case and if you are going to blog, at least know what the hell you are “blogging” about or, at the very least, stop taking words out of context and misconstruing the facts. Am I using too big of words for you? The parents are not suing the school because it (the school) “should have checked him out on MySpace” and no attorney, ESPECIALLY one with an “impressive record” is going to represent a client based on that. Are you from a small town? Do you understand small town mentality? This teacher is from this town and his mother works at the school. He was a math teacher for the school. Around the time she began her tutoring, her dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. When they noticed the changes in her, they took her to see a counselor. She lied to the counselor for quite a while to protect him. When she finally got up the courage to tell, she was called a “slut” and was told she deserved it and got pretty much the same ignorant bullshit comments just like the replies to this blog. Thank you for helping add to her and her family’s pain and encouraging ignorance. Are you happy? Does it make you feel good to see her being called a slut and having the family have more guilt added on?

    Here are the facts, a 29 now 30-year old (lets not gloss over his age! If you can name the minor child’s name why are you afraid to say his exact age?) was teacher at a public school. His wages were paid for with taxpayer dollars, including the Marvin’s money, which means that parents are guarenteed a safe education for their children. This began at school and occasionally happened at school. I don’t care if she laid down naked in front of him and begged him for it, he is the adult and she is a child. He is a teacher and she was his student. He was hired to keep children safe, not use them for his own sick satisfaction.

    Why not include EVERYONE who has ever been date-raped in your finger-pointing?

  3. collapse expand

    Oh, one more thing. Your comment about seeing jurors being sympathetic in this case shows how much you really do know, since there are no jurors in a civil suit.

Log in for notification options
Comments RSS

Post Your Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment

Log in with your True/Slant account.

Previously logged in with Facebook?

Create an account to join True/Slant now.

Facebook users:
Create T/S account with Facebook

My T/S Activity Feed


    About Me

    I am a writer, reporter, editor and blogger. I'm an editor at Above The Law, where I blog about lawyers, judges, law firms and the legal industry. Here at True/Slant, I write about our changing notions of privacy.

    If you have story ideas or tips, e-mail me at kashhill@trueslant.com. I've hung out in quite a few newsrooms over the last few years. Currently, I can be found in Breaking Media's Nolita office. In the past, I've been found in midtown Manhattan at The Week Magazine, in Hong Kong at the International Herald Tribune, and in D.C. at the National Press Foundation and the Washington Examiner.

    I have few illusions about privacy -- feel free to follow me on Twitter: kashhill. Or friend me on Facebook... though I might put you on limited profile.

    See my profile »
    Followers: 401
    Contributor Since: March 2009
    Location:New York, NY

    What I'm Up To

    • Staying Above The Law


      Over at Above The Law, I write about lawyers, law firms, judges and the legal industry.

      We especially like “colorful news.” (Yes, that’s a euphemism for gossip.)

      Check out the site here and my stuff here.


    • Writing with real ink

      While most of my writing occurs online at Above The Law and True/Slant, I do occasionally venture into the world of print.  These are some of the magazines and newspapers that I’ve written for:

      The Washington Post

      Washingtonian Magazine

      Time Out New York

      The Orange County Register

      The Washington Examiner

    • Recent projects

      washingtonian issue for tsThe latest (and longest) “real ink” project: the cover story for Washingtonian Magazine’s December issue.

      While I’m usually a writer and reporter, I’m sometimes asked to play pundit. In November, the New York Times asked me to write a mini op-ed for its Room for Debate blog. In December, BBC radio asked me to talk about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook privacy settings for its Newshour (19:00 minute mark), based on this True/Slant post.

    • +O
    • +O
    • +O