In 2010, Palm Beach Shores Sgt. David Kelley sat down in a meeting room with a woman who wanted to file a complaint against an officer.
Kelley flicked on a tape recorder, and she told her story about officer Charles Hoeffer.
She had asked police for protection while she moved out of her abusive boyfriend’s house. Hoeffer was one of the officers and offered to find her a place to stay. But when he spotted her underwear in a bag, he told her how much he liked it, police records show.
Then he asked to see her in it.
“I would really love to see you in those thongs,” she recalled him saying. “I bet you look really good in them. Maybe we can make that happen, huh?”
She said she took it to be a quid-pro-quo: “If I’m going to help you, you’re going to do something for me.”
Despite getting her statement, Kelley tried to call her four more times. When she didn’t call back, he closed out the case, records show. He never even interviewed Hoeffer.
For Hoeffer, who didn’t respond to requests for comment, neither the complaint nor its outcome is unusual.
Since 1983, at least 11 women have claimed he raped, assaulted, sexually harassed or hit them, The Palm Beach Post has learned through public records and interviews with more than a dozen people connected to Hoeffer’s cases. That includes the latest accusation, for which he’s currently on paid leave: that he raped a blind woman in her home — twice.
None of these allegations has ever resulted in an arrest or a day’s suspension, though.
His fellow officers and coworkers have pleaded with women to come forward and urged police administrators, prosecutors and elected officials to do something.
“This officer is an abomination,” one person wrote anonymously last year to FDLE’s professional compliance section, which can revoke an officer’s license. “The Town of Palm Beach Shores has given this predator a jungle to hunt in.”
Even Hoeffer’s own family has accused him of a crime.
In December, his 14-year-old grandson told a PBSO deputy something his mother, Hoeffer’s daughter Melody, said before she died of cancer.
Hoeffer, the boy said, had killed her mother.
Wife’s death ruled suicide
On Sept. 14, 1988, Charlene Kay Hoeffer was found slumped over the edge of her bathtub, a gunshot wound above and behind her right ear.
It was a suicide, Delray Beach police and the county medical examiner quickly decided, saying the 24-year-old suffered from depression brought on by premenstrual syndrome.
But some facts about her death were left out of their reports.
She was found gripping her husband’s gun in her right hand, her finger on the trigger. But she was left-handed, her family says.
She had told police that Hoeffer, her husband of seven years, physically and emotionally abused her.
Kay called police about him twice early on in their marriage. She complained that he “consistently assaults her, embarrasses her and starts fights with her,” according to a police report. A PBSO deputy tried to find a place for her in a domestic violence shelter that day in August 1983, but couldn’t. She stayed with friends that night.
Two months later, Kay called police again. She said her husband beat her when she had premenstral syndrome, the police report states. Kay had a black and blue mark under her right eye, the deputy noted in the report. Hoeffer, who was not yet an officer, wasn’t home.
Neither call led to an arrest.
When she died about five years later, Hoeffer was a rookie cop with the Delray Beach Police Department. His fellow officers investigated her death. He told them that on the morning she died, he’d had back pain and got out of his bed at 1 a.m. to sleep on the couch.
He didn’t wake up until 7:30 a.m., when a neighbor’s child knocked on the door to give his 7-year-old daughter, Melody, a ride to school. Surprised that nobody was already awake, he woke Melody and went to check on Kay. He opened the door to the bathroom and saw her slumped over the bathtub.
Hoeffer asked Kay if she was sick, he told police. When she didn’t answer, he walked closer and saw the blood and the gun. He then ran out of the house, screaming to a neighbor that his wife shot herself, the report states.
The detective interviewed two of Kay’s coworkers at the First Baptist Church in Delray Beach, where she worked as a teacher. They confirmed that she often seemed depressed, but had never mentioned suicide, according to the police report.
But a new twist in the case recently surfaced.
In 2013, Melody died of cancer at age 31, leaving behind three children. Last year, Hoeffer got custody of her 14-year-old son.
But when Hoeffer went to pick up the boy at the other grandparents’ house in December, the boy called 911.
He told a PBSO deputy that his mother had revealed something before she died: Hoeffer had killed Kay, according to the PBSO report.
Hoeffer told the deputy that the case was investigated by Delray Beach police and ruled it a suicide.
“Charles told me his daughter nor anyone else ever blamed him for the death of his wife and believes (the boy) made that allegation in order for him not to go back home with him,” the deputy wrote.
After talking to the deputy, the boy went with Hoeffer, where he remains.
Although Hoeffer says no one blamed him in Kay’s death, it appears police at the time didn’t ask 7-year-old Melody about it. A statement from her isn’t in any report.
Dr. John Marraccini, then the deputy chief medical examiner who performed her autopsy, said if he knew Kay was left-handed and that she’d reported him for domestic violence, he would have included it in his reports.
But the fact she used her right hand isn’t inherently suspicious.
“We see that with some suicides in which the firearms is braced by the dominant hand and fired with the other,” he said.
Dr. Michael Bell, chief medical examiner for Palm Beach County, agreed. But a history of domestic violence could raise the level of suspicion.
“I think it’s certainly a red flag, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a homicide,” he said.
Bell said he’d be willing to reopen the case if police asked.
They don’t plan to ask, though, according to Delray Beach police spokesman Jeffrey Messer. He said the agency wasn’t aware of the boy’s statement until The Post called about it. The boy’s allegation is secondhand and too old, officer Jeff Messer said.
“Without any new information, we are not going to open this up,” he said.
He didn’t know whether detectives plan to interview the boy.
Police ignored history
Over Hoeffer’s career in policing, two of the three departments he has worked for have tried to get rid of him.
Delray Beach police convinced him to resign in 1991 after they determined he had beaten and harassed his second wife — they labeled it “conduct unbecoming an officer” — and lied about it, according to the department’s internal affairs file.
The couple was estranged when he showed up at her house, took her boot and smashed her in the face with it, shattering her nose, Delray Beach records show. He also called her work and hung up repeatedly, knowing that the calls could cost her her job, she told police.
Although Hoeffer’s supervisor told him to stop calling her, he called her at home — during an interview about Hoeffer with an internal affairs lieutenant. And when the lieutenant was talking to Hoeffer himself about the calls, Hoeffer called her again during a break, department phone records showed.
Riviera Beach police hired him soon after, but fired him in 1996 after a woman, who was drunk, accused him of taking her to a hotel room and raping her while he was on duty, according to news reports at the time. He won his job back, though, after prosecutors declined to charge him, citing a lack of evidence.
In 2008, Hoeffer quit Riviera Beach police with a pension and went looking for another job.
The neighboring Palm Beach Shores Police Department welcomed him.
Hoeffer had former coworkers working on the tiny Palm Beach Shores 12-officer force, which patrols less than a half square mile on the bottom tip of Singer Island. And like Hoeffer, some of them had made headlines when they, too, were fired from Riviera Beach police.
The current lieutenant, Steven Langevin, was fired in 1983 after he accidentally shot a fellow officer at a party and, separately, was accused of putting a gun to the head of the son of a city politician and saying, “Just shut your damn mouth before I put a .38 through your skull,” according to news reports at the time. He won a $450,000 settlement from the city after claiming his firing was racially motivated. Langevin is white.
In 1997, Blase Pfefforkorn was fired from Riviera Beach after he and two other officers tried to take over and reorganize the police department, with the help of some city councilmen. He won his job back in arbitration and went to Palm Beach Shores in 2006.
When the agency considered hiring Hoeffer, Sgt. Kelley did the background check. In his report, Hoeffer’s history looked much better than it was.
Kelley wrote that the allegations by his second wife were “not sustained.” But Delray Beach police had upheld all of the allegations, including the beating and harassment.
Kelley also wrote that Hoeffer’s wife had retracted her allegations. Not true, according to the Delray reports.
And on top of that, Kelley said Delray Beach destroys all files into allegations that aren’t sustained.
The Post recently received them by filing a records request. Kelley, who has left the agency, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Complaints in Palm Beach Shores
It’s unclear who approved Hoeffer’s hiring at Palm Beach Shores in 2008.
Roger Wille, son of the longtime Palm Beach County sheriff, was the police chief, but was on medical leave at the time and said recently that he didn’t hire Hoeffer.
“I declined to hire him,” Wille said. “I can’t pinpoint the reason. … I really didn’t like the way he presented himself.”
Steven Kniffin was acting chief. He said he didn’t remember whether he hired Hoeffer and declined to answer additional questions about it. Kniffin is a PBSO deputy, hired last year at age 63.
Regardless of who hired him, Kniffin was the chief who oversaw a slew of complaints by women against Hoeffer.
In 2010, an employee of the town’s popular Sailfish Marina confided to officer Paul Liccardo that Hoeffer had stopped her twice, once on the beach and once walking to work, and commented, “nice tits” and “nice ass,” according to records in the case.
Liccardo urged her to file a complaint, but the woman didn’t want to cause trouble. She just wanted Hoeffer to stop, according to records. Liccardo relayed her message to Kniffin, who told him to talk to Hoeffer.
But when Liccardo talked to Hoeffer, Hoeffer turned around and filed a complaint against Liccardo — for failing to properly report the incident, according to the investigation files. The agency investigated Hoeffer’s complaint, but never opened an investigation into Hoeffer’s behavior.
The allegations weren’t limited to residents. When he was tasked with supervising police dispatchers, two lodged complaints of sexual harassment, according to town records.
One said he would often come up behind her and whisper inappropriate comments in her ear, such as, “I would like to get some of that” and “You look hot today.”
The other, in an email to Town Manager Cindy Lindskoog, said Hoeffer told her several times, “I’ll take you out since your husband’s out of town.”
“I felt disgusted after hearing those words from my supposed SUPERVISOR,” she wrote.
She also said that two Palm Beach Shores officers told her they had heard Hoeffer make lewd remarks “while watching a town resident’s 12-year-old daughter swimming in a pool located in town,” according to the dispatcher’s letter.
Several dispatchers confirmed that Hoeffer would grope himself in front of them, although they said it seemed like a nervous tic, according to records.
Lindskoog ordered an investigation, and it was eventually farmed out to North Palm Beach, since Palm Beach Shores doesn’t have its own internal affairs department.
They found the allegations unfounded, partly because the dispatcher who complained to Lindskoog eventually stopped cooperating.
That dispatcher filed an EEOC complaint claiming that she was being subjected to a harassing work environment. She was later fired. The town claims her position was eliminated as a “cost saving measure,” according to the town’s response to her complaint.
Plenty of warning
Several police and other employees voiced their concerns about Hoeffer to anyone who would listen.
Former Palm Beach Shores dispatcher Michael Whelan published an “open letter” to then-State Attorney Michael McAuliffe after Hoeffer, as his supervisor, filed two disciplinary complaints that led to his firing in 2011. The letter summarized the allegations against Hoeffer over his career.
Former Riviera Beach police Cmdr. Rick Sessa, who worked with Hoeffer at that department, devoted an entire segment of his now-defunct “Cop Talk” radio show to Hoeffer’s story soon after.
The state attorney’s office received other warnings about Hoeffer.
Sessa said he took a Palm Beach Shores police officer and dispatcher to the office to voice their concerns in 2011. The case went nowhere.
And Kniffin, the former Palm Beach Shores police chief, said he forwarded to the state attorney’s public integrity unit the complaint involving Hoeffer making comments about the woman’s underwear. Kniffin didn’t respond to follow-up questions.
Someone also appealed to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s professional compliance section, which can take away an officer’s certification.
“(FDLE) must step in and put an end to the misconduct this officer has been getting away with for years,” the person wrote in an anonymous letter obtained by The Post. “(FDLE) must come forward and POLICE the POLICE before another female has to suffer.”
The person attached a Riviera Beach police report in which a blind woman claimed in June that Hoeffer raped her in her home, twice — the case for which he’s currently on paid leave.
An FDLE spokeswoman said the agency can revoke an officer’s license only if a police department comes forward with a disciplinary case.
In March, a Palm Beach Shores woman had filed a complaint that Hoeffer had befriended her, and then, while she was in his pickup, groped her.
Although she accurately described his personal vehicle, Hoeffer denied everything she said, records show. Palm Beach Shores ruled last week that there wasn’t enough evidence to discipline him.
The agency is also investigating whether Hoeffer should be disciplined over the rape case from last year. Riviera Beach has opened a criminal investigation.
The blind woman said he had befriended her and her fiance, and one day asked to come over.
When he did, he raped her, she said.
“During the incident the victim was telling Hoeffer, ‘Stop, no, no,’ and tried to push him away,” the Riviera Beach report states.
He cleaned himself up and apologized, the report states. He came over a month later and did it again, but she didn’t fight back. She didn’t immediately call police because she was embarrassed and didn’t know how to tell her fiance, according to the report.
But after she filed the complaint with Riviera Beach, the agency didn’t follow up for 48 days. That’s when she was hospitalized with seizures triggered by the trauma of the incidents, according to the report. When she told nurses what happened, they called police.
By then, she couldn’t recount what happened without triggering another seizure, the report states. After more attempts to get her to come forward, Riviera Beach police labeled the case “inactive.”
The case may have been reopened since The Post first reported on it, though.
State Attorney Dave Aronberg said he is aware of the rape allegations, but couldn’t comment on them because it’s an open investigation.
What The Post Found
A woman called The Post saying she’d complained to police that Charles Hoeffer had groped her. She was so frustrated she said she wanted to go public. The Post dug into Hoeffer’s background and found a number of accusations.
Eleven women have accused officer Charles Hoeffer of either domestic violence, rape, inappropriate touching or sexual harassment during his career with the Delray Beach, Riviera Beach and Palm Beach Shores police departments. He has never lost pay or been arrested for any of the allegations. The women, in chronological order:
1. Hoeffer’s first wife called 911 twice in 1983 to report domestic violence. She killed herself five years later.
2. Delray Beach police found he shattered his second wife’s nose and harassed her in 1991.
3. A woman accused him of improperly searching her in 1994.
4. His third wife cited domestic violence in her 1996 divorce filing.
5. A woman accused him of taking her to a hotel and raping her in 1996. Prosecutors declined to charge him, but noted “disturbing events” in his past.
6. A woman accused him of making inappropriate comments about her underwear at a domestic dispute call in Palm Beach Shores in 2010.
7. A woman he stopped twice in 2010 accused him of making inappropriate comments about her body.
8-9. Two Palm Beach Shores dispatchers accused him of sexual harassment and inappropriately touching himself in 2012 and 2013.
10. A Palm Beach Shores woman in 2013 accused him of groping her.
11. A blind woman accused him of raping her in her home, twice, in 2014. He’s on paid leave while Palm Beach Shores investigates.