Sexual Assault Suits Against Florida Cop Settled for $800K

Former Palm Beach Shores Police Officer Charles Hoeffer attends an arbitration hearing where he is arguing for his job back in West Palm Beach on May 5, 2016. The Palm Beach Shores police chief said at the time the FBI was not going to pursue charges against Hoeffer, who was alleged to have committed sexual assault.

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida — Two women who claim they were sexually assaulted by former Palm Beach Shores Police Officer Charles Hoeffer will be paid a total of $800,000 by the town’s insurer to end their litigation, officials of the small seaside burg said Thursday.

The settlements with a 29-year-old blind woman, who claims Hoeffer raped her twice in 2014, and with a 52-year-old woman, who claims he violently groped her on two occasions in 2013, end an ugly and costly chapter of the town’s history.

Since women began complaining about the 56-year-old career cop who has long been a target of sexual assault allegations, the town at the tip of Singer Island or its insurer has paid more than $1 million.

Palm Beach Shores residents paid $130,000 to settle a lawsuit Hoeffer filed against the town, claiming his termination was unjust. Before last week’s settlements, the town’s insurer paid $150,000 to settle a lawsuit with a former police dispatcher, who claimed town officials ignored her complaints that Hoeffer repeatedly harassed her with crude comments and gestures.

“We’re happy it’s behind us,” Mayor Myra Koutzen said, noting that only $130,000 of the settlements came from town coffers. “I’m hopeful the two alleged victims are satisfied and feel they’ve been heard.”

While such settlements are typically discussed at public meetings, in this case, they weren’t because the town’s insurer hired attorneys to handle the litigation and negotiate the settlements, said town attorney Keith Davis. Palm Beach Shores officials weren’t involved, he said.

Attorney Michael Kugler, who represents the two women, declined comment. Until he receives the agreed-upon $500,000 for the blind woman who said she was raped and $300,000 for the other woman who alleges she was assaulted, Kugler said he didn’t want to say anything that could derail the accords. “We have an agreement in principle to settle both cases,” he said.

Attorney Stephanie Deutsch, who represents Hoeffer, declined comment on whether her client has agreed to pay the two women, who aren’t being identified due to the nature of the allegations. Hoeffer is still a state-certified law enforcement officer but isn’t currently working as a cop, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records.

The lawsuits were filed after The Palm Beach Post in 2015 revealed Hoeffer’s sordid employment history. Since he began working for the Delray Beach Police Department 31 years ago, 11 women, including current and former wives, accused him of rape, domestic violence, sexual assault or sexual harassment, The Post found.

While the complaints spurred internal affairs investigations when he was working as a Delray police officer and again when he was hired by the Riviera Beach Police Department, they didn’t cost him his jobs.

Hoeffer resigned from the Delray agency before its investigation was complete. Though he was fired from his job in Riviera Beach after a woman complained he raped her in a hotel room, an arbitration panel ordered the city to reinstate him.

“Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges but noted Hoeffer’s disturbing history of violence against women,” Kugler wrote in the lawsuits.

Still, Hoeffer’s history didn’t stop Palm Beach Shores from hiring him in 2008.

He was encouraged to apply by now-Chief Steven Langevin, who had worked with Hoeffer in Riviera Beach, Kugler said. Within two years, women again began complaining about Hoeffer, he added. The complaints, however, were largely ignored, he said.

Since being elected mayor two years ago, Koutzen said she has tried to make sure that doesn’t happen again. A three-member citizen review panel has been formed to consider complaints against town employees, she said. So far, she said, no complaints have been heard.

Further, she said, more rigorous background checks are done of potential employees. “The days of the good ol’ boys where they used the town for their friends who needed a place to land are gone in Palm Beach Shores,” she said.

While Palm Beach Shores sits in the shadows of towering condos that line Singer Island, with 1,500 residents, it has a small-town feel. She said she wants to retain that charm. But, she said, residents need to be safe.

“We’re really trying to keep our Mayberry feel here but do it in a professional way,” she said.