NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans homicide detective Charles Hoffacker has channeled many of his gritty street experiences as a cop into a second career as a cutting edge artist.
He once used bullet casings to craft a grim portrait of convicted killer and accused drug kingpin Telly Hankton. An earlier painting depicted an assault rifle draped in Mardi Gras beads.
But Hoffacker is now the subject of an internal investigation in what might be a case of taking his artistic sensibilities too far.
Hoffacker is the subject of a formal complaint that he wrote a message in the blood of a murder victim at a crime scene last week.
The blood had apparently coagulated on the street where the victim was found, multiple sources said.
The New Orleans Police Department confirmed that Hoffacker was decommissioned last Wednesday over the incident and placed on desk duty. The reassignment means Hoffacker can’t wear a uniform or carry a gun and is not allowed to work on the street.
Hoffacker's attorney, Eric Hessler of the Police Association of New Orleans, said the case has been blown out of proportion.
He said the crime scene was never compromised, and the victim had long been removed from the scene when the alleged tampering took place. He conceded that Hoffacker may have used poor judgment, but said the detective never intended any harm and did not violate any departmental rules.
Stress may have been a contributing factor, Hessler said.
He said the complaint came after Hoffacker had worked two double shifts during the bloody Memorial Day weekend that saw four people killed and another 15 wounded in an extreme spike of violence, even by New Orleans standards.
“This was an isolated incident that happened during a very, very difficult time for New Orleans and for this officer also,” Hessler said. “And I’m hoping that the NOPD sees it that way and treats it that way.”
Andy Antippas, owner of Barrister’s Gallery on St. Claude Avenue, has exhibited Hoffacker’s work for nearly 10 years. He said whatever happened at the crime scene was likely done out of Hoffacker’s anger and frustration over the city’s violence.
“If there were 50 more like him, our police force would be a lot stronger,” he said. “Whatever it is he’s been accused of, someone has misconstrued something.”
Antippas said Hoffacker is known for pouring the dark emotions of his police work into his artwork.
“On at least two occasions, he described crime scenes to me with such pathos, such personal anguish, that I remember distinctly on one of those times tears coming out of his eyes,” he said.
In a statement by Hoffacker on his website under his gallery name, Von Hoffacker, he explained how his experiences as a detective to influence his artistic vision.
“I use art to bring the violence I experience on a daily basis to the forefront of the more cultivated art world,” he wrote. “Art to ignite reflection and artistic creation to spur a dialogue of resolution is the underlying purpose of pursuing this career. I find solace in the tradition of painting to both memorialize and reason my subject matter.”
Hoffacker’s work has been shown locally at Barrister’s, Space Gallery, Second Story Gallery and the Contemporary Arts Center. Originally from New Mexico, Hoffacker received formal art training at Delgado Community College, joining the NOPD at a time when he was gaining local attention as a painter.
He has been the subject of several media stories focusing on his non-traditional mix of professions, including a featured piece on National Public Radio.
Antippas said Hoffacker approaches both jobs with the same sense of moral purpose. He recalled one example of Hoffacker’s art in which he made a charcoal portrait of a murder victim whose killing was unsolved.
Hoffacker donated the piece to the family of the victim to be sold at auction to raise money for the family and increase the Crimestoppers reward.
According to departmental rules, the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau has 14 days to determine whether to classify the investigation as criminal or administrative.