A New Orleans police officer known for moonlighting as an artist faces a five-day suspension for allegedly writing on the ground with the blood of a murder victim as investigators worked the scene of a fatal shooting in May.
The officer, Charles Hoffacker, whose crime-themed paintings have gained widespread acclaim, “acknowledged he was under stress when he wrote the letters ‘H-E’ on the ground using a homicide victim’s blood,” said Tyler Gamble, a New Orleans Police Department spokesman.
Hoffacker’s behavior ran afoul of the department’s “professionalism policy,” Gamble said, noting that the officer’s suspension was sustained at a disciplinary hearing Dec. 22.
Hoffacker’s supervisor, Sgt. Marc Amos, received a 15-day suspension for “failure to supervise” but remained assigned to the Homicide Division.
Hoffacker, meanwhile, was transferred out of the Homicide Division and assigned to patrol the 1st District, returning to full duty after undergoing a psychological evaluation.
Police Superintendent Michael Harrison has signed off on the disciplinary action, Gamble said, though a formal letter of discipline hasn’t been issued.
Hoffacker has not served his suspension and may appeal it, according to his lawyer, Eric Hessler. Hessler stressed that the murder investigation, while still unresolved, had not been “compromised in any way, shape or form.”
He insisted that Hoffacker had not intended to write anything with the blood, which he had been inspecting for evidence, yet “played along” at the scene by suggesting, in the presence of his colleagues, that the blood he wiped off his rubber gloves resembled part of the word “help.”
“It did look like an ‘H’ and an ‘E,’ but it was just the different directions he was wiping the blood off,” Hessler said. “He said it in a reflective kind of way, but he probably shouldn’t have said it.”
Hoffacker is known for provocative works that call on his experience behind the badge in one of the country’s most murder-ridden cities, including a portrait made of thousands of bullet casings that depicts Telly Hankton, the former Central City crime boss serving life in prison for murder. Another work shows an assault rifle decorated by Mardi Gras beads.
On his website, Hoffacker explains that he seeks to channel the violence he encounters daily “to the forefront of the more cultivated art world.”
“I find solace in the tradition of painting to both memorialize and reason my subject matter,” he added. “This is the natural progression of humanity, and it is folly to devoid one’s culture or self of art and of peace.”
As a homicide detective in New Orleans, Hoffacker had no shortage of inspiration. In an interview published last year on Vice.com, he described the autopsy of a 7-month-old as perhaps the worst thing he has experienced.
“I deal with a lot of self-loathing,” he told the interviewer, adding he intended to retire from the force in a little more than a year.
“I never feel good about myself, except when I’m making art,” he said.
Last year, the Police Department’s Public Integrity Bureau opened an inquiry into claims that Hoffacker allowed his artistic impulses to get the better of him after an exceptionally violent Memorial Day weekend.
The crime scene in question involved the May 27 shooting death of Floyd Batiste, a 32-year-old man gunned down in the 4500 block of Skyview Street in New Orleans East. The murder, which remains unsolved, happened on a Tuesday evening, capping a burst of violence in which the city recorded six murders over a five-day stretch.
Hoffacker, on this occasion, had the unenviable task of sifting through coagulated blood in search of clues.
“You have to physically go through (the blood) with rubber gloves and feel for any pellets or any evidence that might be concealed,” said Hessler, the defense attorney. “It’s a disgusting job, but that’s what he was doing.”
John Gagliano, the longtime chief investigator for the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office who retired last year, looked down as Hoffacker was wiping off his gloves “and said, ‘Look, Charlie’s painting something,’ ” Hessler said. Gagliano couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
“I think they realized he was getting all this attention (for his painting) and they thought, maybe, he might just be doing something,” Hessler said of the officials on the scene. “He just, for lack of a better term, played along with it. He goes, ‘Yeah, he’s asking for help,’ or something along those lines.”
The Fire Department washed the blood away from the scene within seconds, Hessler said. Hoffacker, Hessler added, doesn’t “want anyone in the family of the deceased thinking that he was being disrespectful in any way, shape or form, or that he ever would have done anything to impugn the integrity of any investigation.”
Hessler said that Amos, the sergeant who was suspended for 15 days, “verbally reprimanded” Hoffacker at the scene but apparently was disciplined for not writing him up and taking formal disciplinary action.
Hoffacker, who joined the department in 2004, was previously disciplined with a letter of reprimand in 2013 for writing a character letter, without prior approval, on New Orleans Police Department letterhead on behalf of a suspect charged in Florida with traveling to meet a minor for sex and interstate solicitation of sex.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.