Bail denied for ex-Suffolk police chief in alleged revenge beating, cover up

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Friday, December 11, 2015
No bail for former Suffolk Police chief
Stacey Sager reports from Central Islip.

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (WABC) -- Bail was denied Friday for the former Suffolk County police chief charged with a revenge beating that he allegedly covered up.

Prosecutors had pushed for James Burke to be kept in jail after labeling him a danger to the community. Burke has pleaded not guilty to federal assault and obstruction charges.

He is accused of beating a man who broke into his police cruiser in 2012 and then trying to hide the alleged assault.

"Quite frankly, I find the corruption of an entire department by this defendant is shocking," U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler said.

During the nearly one-hour bail hearing, prosecutors also said at least 11 current or former police officers and detectives testified before the grand jury that indicted Burke.

Burke's attorney, Joseph Conway, argued that because the chief retired in October - amid reports of the federal investigation - he no longer wielded the power of the top uniformed officer in the police department, and therefore was not a threat.

The theft 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 and was sentenced to three years in prison; he was released last summer.

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." And from there, they said, it only got worse. Prosecutors painted a miserable picture of a man who thought he had the power to beat up Loeb in front of at least three officers, then allegedly suggest that they give Loeb, a heroin addict, a so-called "hot shot," which is a deadly mix of heroin.

"And somebody has to say, 'obviously we're not doing that,' right?" she said. "'We'll cover up the beating for you but, hot shot? We don't know."

Conway argued that Loeb's account was less than credible.

"You're talking about a man who is a two-time convicted felon, admitted heroin dealer, who did not make allegations that day that he was beaten up by anybody," he said.

But new allegations against Burke kept coming, including one that he brazenly sent a group text to 10 other cops asking them to cover up the case, and that he somehow Burke had access to secret grand jury deliberations in the case.

Burke resigned from the force in October after a 31-year career. Before being named chief in 2012, he worked as an investigator for the Suffolk County district attorney.