Former NY police chief accused of covering up beating

Former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke is escorted to a vehicle by FBI personnel outside an FBI office in Melville, N.Y. on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. Prosecutors didn't immediately announce charges, but Burke had been under scrutiny for years over an allegation that he beat a prisoner in 2012. He resigned from the force in October. (Steve Pfost/Newsday via AP)

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) — The former chief of one of the country’s largest local law enforcement agencies was arrested Wednesday on charges he took revenge against a man who broke into his SUV by beating the suspect and then coercing officers to lie about what happened.

Former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke also threatened to kill the suspect with a heroin overdose, prosecutors told a judge.

Burke was arrested by federal agents at his Long Island home on charges of violating the man’s rights by assaulting him and of conspiring to cover it up. His attorney entered a not guilty plea, and U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler ordered Burke held in a federal lockup pending 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, ammunition and handcuffs. 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 prior to 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 heroin, 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.” Burke then “went out of control, screaming and cursing at Loeb and assaulting him until a detective finally said, ‘Boss that’s enough, that’s enough.'”

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.

Judge Wexler 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.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who appointed Burke in 2012, did not immediately comment on the charges against the ex-chief.

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 Hamptons and several other towns also have local police departments that patrol those areas.

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