Former NY police chief accused of covering up beating

AP News
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Posted: Dec 09, 2015 5:50 PM
Former NY police chief accused of covering up beating

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) — The ex-chief of one of the country's largest local law enforcement agencies was arrested Wednesday on charges he took revenge against a man who stole sex toys, pornography and other items from his SUV by beating the suspect and then coercing officers to lie about it.

Former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke also threatened to kill the suspect with a heroin overdose and "went out of control" — punching, screaming and cursing — after the suspect called him a "pervert" until a detective "finally said, 'Boss that's enough, that's enough,'" prosecutors told a judge.

Burke was arrested by federal agents at his Long Island home on charges he violated the man's rights by assaulting him and conspiring to cover it up. His attorney entered a not guilty plea, and U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler ordered him detained until a Friday bail hearing.

Burke's attorney, Joseph Conway, said the theft suspect's claims were fabricated and that Burke looks forward to his defense.

"We believe the charges are unwarranted and will not stand up later in court," he said.

The suspect, Christopher Loeb, was arrested after someone broke into the chief's department-issued SUV in 2012 and made off with a gun belt, handcuffs, magazines of ammunition, a box of cigars, humidor and a canvas bag that contained, among other items, sex toys and video pornography, authorities said. Loeb later pleaded guilty to a weapons charge.

Loeb, who has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Burke and the department, said he was assaulted initially at his home by officers and subsequently at the precinct, where he said he was beaten by Burke and other officers.

Loeb's attorney, Amy Marion, said in a statement that her client will continue to cooperate with investigators. "We look forward to seeing that justice is done," she said.

U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said at a news conference before the arraignment that Burke influenced officers in his department to lie about what happened to Loeb. The prosecutor told reporters to "stay tuned" on whether further arrests were possible.

Burke also threatened to kill Loeb with a lethal dose of drugs, prosecutors wrote in a letter to the judge seeking to have Burke held without bail.

"Knowing that Loeb was a heroin addict, Burke threatened to kill Loeb, stating he would make sure Loeb received a 'hot shot,'" Capers wrote, referring to the slang term for either a fatally strong dose of heroin or one mixed with chemicals or poison intended to kill.

Loeb then allegedly referenced pornography found in Burke's bag and called the then-chief "a pervert" just before Burke turned up his fury.

Capers' letter also alleges Burke ordered "detectives assigned to a federal-state task force to 'spy' on federal law enforcement colleagues" and in the past several months "threatened to 'take everyone' down with him."

Prosecutors said Burke also abused his authority by entering Loeb's residence as police searched for evidence, retrieving his canvas bag and other articles and jeopardizing a larceny investigation that victimized many other civilians "solely to retrieve embarrassing articles."

Later that day, he bragged to others police department employees about his assault on Loeb and days later "regaled a group of officers with his account of the assault, saying it reminded him of his 'old days' as a young police officer," prosecutors said.

Burke had been under scrutiny for years over Loeb's allegations. He resigned from the force in October after a 31-year career.

Burke was charged with deprivation of civil rights and conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice. Capers said he could face more than five years in prison if convicted.

The judge consented to a defense request to close the Friday hearing to the public and press, despite the objections of a prosecutor. Burke did not speak during Wednesday's brief court proceeding.

Before Burke was named chief, he worked as an investigator for the Suffolk County district attorney.

The Suffolk County Police Department, with more than 2,000 officers, is among the country's 15 largest departments. It has responsibility for patrolling much of eastern Long Island, although the ritzy Hamptons and several other towns also have local police departments that patrol those areas.