Former Missoula police officer Jason Huntsinger was sentenced to one year in prison on Friday for purchasing child pornography over the Internet.
In addition to the prison term, Huntsinger, 38, must complete three years of supervised release and undergo sex offender treatment. In early March, he pleaded guilty to a single felony count of receipt of obscene material, which included pornographic images of children. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years on supervised release.
Huntsinger appeared at the sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Missoula wearing a dark suit, and stood alongside his attorney, Douglas McNabb of Texas. Family members of the disgraced former officer tearfully observed the proceedings, while several law enforcement officers who knew the man professionally also attended.
“I really don't know how to express just how ashamed of myself I am,” Huntsinger said. “I've severely disappointed my family and everyone else.”
Huntsinger spent nearly eight years as a Missoula officer before federal authorities seized computers from his office and the police union in September 2007. He spent about a year on paid, then unpaid, leave before resigning in September 2008.
The federal criminal charge involved Huntsinger's membership to a pornographic Web site that featured sexually explicit pictures of children under the age of 18. The site, which Huntsinger admitted to accessing over a computer belonging to the police union, was called “Lolitas on Holiday.”
Huntsinger paid for his online membership with a personal credit card, but listed as his address the U.S. Post Office box of the federal drug task force to which he was detailed.
According to court records, the files on Huntsinger's computers contained numerous pornographic images of children who could be considered adolescents or teenagers. However, he also had acquired “a huge collection of prepubescent children in erotic poses and inappropriate clothing and a small number of true child pornography images of little girls.”
A number of those images depicted children who were 5 and 6 years old, U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy said during Friday's sentencing hearing.
“There's a market for this junk,” Molloy said. “There is a genuine lack of human concern for these little children and it is ... promoted when people like Mr. Huntsinger are paying money to access these images.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Marcia Hurd said the sheer number of pornographic images in Huntsinger's possession - literally thousands of photographs - evinced “compulsivity in terms of collecting, which will need to be addressed in treatment.”
Besides the standard conditions of probation, Molloy imposed a host of restrictions on Huntsinger's freedom to interact with minors. Huntsinger also is prohibited from going near schoolyards, possessing sexually explicit materials, and using computers with Internet access.
After touting Huntsinger's long dedication to public service and his commendable police work, attorney McNabb recommended a sentence of five years on probation. In a sentencing memorandum filed with the court, McNabb wrote that a probationary sentence is appropriate due to “Mr. Huntsinger's family circumstances (Huntsinger has two young children), his exceptionally low likelihood of recidivism, his public service and good deeds, his punishment by collateral consequences, his extreme remorse for his behavior, and his likelihood of abuse in prison.”
Huntsinger was hired as a Missoula police officer in January 2000 after serving as an officer in Downey, Calif. He quickly moved up the ranks in Missoula, serving as a sergeant and working on the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force.
Roughly a dozen letters were submitted to the court by friends, family members and former chief of police Rusty Wickman describing Huntsinger's dedication to his wife, children and the police department.
Prosecutor Hurd recommended a sentence of between 46 and 57 months in prison. Although Hurd agreed that Huntsinger's public service is commendable and should be taken into account when determining the sentence, his role as a police officer should not eclipse the gravity of his crime, she said.
“The fact that he was purchasing access to and knowingly receiving child pornography images while he was employed as a police officer for the city of Missoula ... balance the scale to the other side of public service,” Hurd wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “As a sworn law enforcement officer, Huntsinger is held to a higher standard of behavior in his life and is certainly held to the standard of obeying the law. Huntsinger's criminal conduct has had a negative effect on the Missoula Police Department, and has kept that department in the limelight while this case has been pending.”
Hurd said Huntsinger's remorse appears genuine, but added that he has repeatedly minimized the nature of his offense by claiming that the images were of “adolescent” girls.
“These are children under the ages of 12, some under the ages of 10, who are naked, spreading their legs exhibiting their genitals,” Hurd said. “I know it makes it easier to say it was teenagers, but that is not the case.”
Molloy said the period of incarceration is appropriate due to the “disturbing nature” of the offense, and because of his inglorious record of conduct at a prior law enforcement job.
In a March 2008 story, the Missoulian revealed that Huntsinger lost his job in Downey after he took explicit, evidentiary photographs of female crime victims. Ordinarily, such pictures would have been taken by female officers, then logged into evidence. Instead, Huntsinger took the pictures himself and kept them.
Huntsinger also was reproached for his handling of another female crime victim's case. That woman complained that Huntsinger was overly solicitous of her, prompting a complaint to the department. Those problems were detailed in Huntsinger's personnel file in Downey, but Missoula police failed to discover them when they vetted Huntsinger for the Missoula job.
Rumors of Huntsinger's misconduct cropped up in April 2006, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement started an investigation into commercial Web sites offering explicit pictures of children. One of those Web sites was “Lolitas on Holiday,” and ICE agents identified Huntsinger as a customer. He paid $79.95 in December 2006 to join the site, a transaction that led to the September 2007 search warrant.
The subsequent examination of a computer belonging to the Missoula Police Protective Association, of which Huntsinger was president, revealed that he visited the Lolitas Web site as well as other sites trafficking in porn.