Former Suffolk County Police Chief Pleads Guilty To Civil Rights Violation And Conspiracy To Obstruct Justice
James Burke Admits to Assaulting Handcuffed Suspect in December 2012 and Orchestrating an Extensive Cover-up to Obstruct the Federal Civil Rights Investigation
Earlier today, at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, New York, James Burke, the former Chief of Department for the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD), pleaded guilty to a civil rights violation and conspiracy to obstruct justice. The civil rights violation related to Burke’s assault of a Smithtown man who had been arrested for breaking into Burke’s SCPD-issued vehicle and stealing his property on December 14, 2012. Following that assault, over almost three years, Burke and other Suffolk County law enforcement authorities took actions to obstruct the federal civil rights investigation into the assault. Burke was arrested and arraigned on December 9, 2015, and he has been in federal custody since that date.
The guilty plea was announced by Robert L. Capers, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Diego Rodriguez, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI).
“The defendant violated his oath and responsibilities as a law enforcement officer by exacting personal vengeance, assaulting a handcuffed suspect, and abusing his authority as the highest ranking uniformed member of the Suffolk County Police Department. Despite the efforts of the defendant and his co-conspirators to obstruct the federal investigation, he has been brought to justice,” stated United States Attorney Capers. “Our investigation is ongoing, and we will seek to hold accountable anyone who violates another’s civil rights or attempts to obstruct justice.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Rodriguez stated, “An honest government, trusted by the people, is imperative to protect our freedoms. For these reasons, combating public corruption is the top criminal priority of the FBI. In his guilty plea today, Burke has taken responsibility for his illegal conduct. This begins the restoration of the public’s trust in the Suffolk County Police Department’s ability to protect their Constitutional freedoms.”
According to the indictment, court filings, and statements during today’s guilty plea proceeding, on December 14, 2012, New York State Probation Department and SCPD officers arrested probationer Christopher Loeb at his mother’s home in Smithtown, New York, for a variety of probation violations. During the arrest and search of the Loeb residence, officers discovered a large cache of merchandise stolen from over a dozen vehicles, including an SCPD-issued SUV operated by Burke. Among the items taken from Burke’s SUV was his gun belt, several magazines of ammunition, a box of cigars, a humidor, and a canvas bag that contained toiletries, clothing, and other items.
Burke was permitted to enter the Loeb residence and retrieve the canvas bag and several other articles, even as the search was underway. He then drove to the SCPD’s 4th Precinct in Smithtown where detectives had begun interrogating Loeb. Burke entered the interrogation room where Loeb was handcuffed and chained to an eyebolt fastened to the floor. Burke then punched and kicked Loeb in the head and body.
Subsequently, Burke and others pressured the detectives who witnessed the assault to conceal the event. Those efforts continued even after the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office opened an investigation of the assault in 2013. In one instance, Burke summoned detectives under his command to SCPD headquarters in Yaphank, New York, to persuade the detectives to agree to a false version of events that would conceal the assault. In October 2013, one of those detectives testified falsely under oath in a state pretrial hearing in the Loeb prosecution, denying that Loeb had been assaulted.
The guilty plea proceeding was held before United States District Judge Leonard D. Wexler.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Long Island Criminal Division. Assistant United States Attorneys Lara Treinis Gatz and John J. Durham are in charge of the prosecution, assisted by EDNY Investigator William Hessle.
Smithtown, New York
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 15-CR-627 (LDW)