CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) — Prosecutors say the former Suffolk County police chief should be denied bail Friday because he's a danger to the community for a long-running pattern of behavior that includes beating a prisoner who snatched sex toys and pornographic videos from his SUV and covering up the crime.
They plan to argue against bail for James Burke, saying in court papers he had long tried to "create a climate of fear to protect his interests" as he led one of the nation's largest police forces.
Defense attorney Nancy Bartling said in an email there will be no evidence alleging Burke is a danger to the community or a threat "to further obstruct any investigation."
"No facts exist that warrants his incarceration before trial. He has the same presumption of innocence that every criminal defendant has who appears before the court," she said.
Prosecutors claimed in a letter obtained by The Associated Press before it was deleted from the public record that Burke repeatedly abused his power and authority prior to Wednesday's arrest.
They say he used a GPS device in 2013 to snoop on a high-ranking civilian police department official he disliked and covered up his drunken driving accident in 2011.
They contend his conduct worsened after he learned federal authorities were investigating him for punching, kicking and threatening the life of a handcuffed inmate arrested for breaking into his vehicle in December 2012 and for snatching his personal items from the crime scene at the inmate's mother's home.
The letter to U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler said Burke began a cover-up when a special prosecutor was appointed in March 2013, telling witnesses to agree "he merely 'popped' his head in to look" at the suspect.
"Knowing Burke's reputation for violating the law and seeking retribution against those who went against his corrupt orders, the witnesses feared their careers would be destroyed," prosecutors wrote.
After the FBI and prosecutors began a civil rights probe in May 2013, Burke told a witness at an evidentiary hearing in October 2013 to lie, which the officer did, prosecutors said.
"Efforts by Burke to tamper with witnesses and impede the federal investigation have continued to the present, and Burke's touted connections to law enforcement who remain on duty in the county continue to instill fear," prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said county officers assigned to a joint state-federal task force were ordered by Burke to spy on witnesses and federal law enforcement colleagues. They said several witnesses have said Burke in October tried to give them a "timeline" containing false events and that he has threatened to "take everyone" down with him if he was arrested.
Wexler has said he plans to close Friday's bail hearing to the public, prompting a letter from lawyers for several media organizations, including The Associated Press, challenging the legality of a closed hearing. The letter, citing legal precedent, said "the existence of pretrial publicity, alone, does not justify closure."
The other news organizations were Newsday, the Daily News, The New York Times, the New York Post, News 12 Networks, WABC-TV and WNBC-TV.
Neumeister reported from New York.