Police conclude that the former St. Paul school board member, who stepped down over the case, was not viewing child pornography on a library computer. But he says the accusations will never be forgotten.
Former St. Paul school board member Al Oertwig on Tuesday expressed relief that police have declared allegations that he viewed child pornography on a library computer as unfounded. But that didn't lessen his melancholy over the fact that his career serving children is probably over.
Such allegations, even if untrue, really never go away, said Oertwig, who has served on the school board, off and on, since 1983. The allegation prompted him to resign his board seat in April. He was preparing to run for reelection when the allegations came out.
"The police have never called me. They've never written me a letter. They've never asked to interview me," said Oertwig, 62. "I don't think the public understands the harm that an allegation can cause."
According to a police report filed Thursday:
A St. Paul police sergeant working with the Minnesota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force said that an analysis of a Metropolitan State University computer allegedly accessed by Oertwig on March 30 had no images containing minors.
A folder linked to Oertwig's library identification number did contain images of "adult erotica" and "pornography," the police report said. But, because the images were not illegal, the case against Oertwig is closed, police spokesman Tom Walsh said Tuesday.
On March 30, St. Paul police filed a report that they were investigating a library patron who allegedly was viewing "homosexual child porn" at the Metropolitan State University library on the city's East Side. Oertwig was not identified as the patron at that time. But about two weeks later, a local news organization named him and he then resigned.
A fuller version of that initial report, released Tuesday, said that a library security officer saw a man at a computer monitor watching what the officer said were images of three adult males and three naked juvenile males engaged in sex.
"At first glance he did not believe what he had seen," the police report said. The officer then took a second look to verify it, the report added.
When confronted, the library patron gathered his items and ran out of the library.
A check of the computer that day revealed that Oertwig's access card was used to log onto the computer. In addition, the folder that later was analyzed, and shown not to contain child porn, was identified with Oertwig's Metro State ID number.
Images taken from security cameras, however, were of insufficient quality to prove it was Oertwig who ran from the library, a police report said.
"Nobody is able to say absolutely that it was Al," said Walsh, the police spokesman.
When asked Tuesday whether he was viewing images on the computer or whether someone else could have been using his library identification number, Oertwig said: "I think it's time to set all that aside."
The power of an allegation
He insisted in April that he had never viewed child porn. His resignation, he said then and now, was more about letting the school board get on with its work without the distraction that fighting such allegations would have created. And, he said, as a school board member every time he would have opened his mouth, the news media would attach the allegations to his words.
"My ability to be a spokesperson on behalf of kids was diminished," he said. "For some people, this will always be attached to my name."
What is especially painful, Oertwig said, is that his contributions to the schools of St. Paul have been reduced in the minds of many because of unproven allegations. As board chairman in 2002, Oertwig's work was instrumental in gaining passage of an excess levy proposal for the schools. And, over the years, he's been the board's elder statesman on various national, statewide and metropolitan education boards and committees.