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), was sentenced to 46 months in prison and three years of supervised release by United States District Judge Leonard D. Wexler. Previously, on February 26, 2016, Burke 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 sentence was announced by Robert L. Capers, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI).
“During his tenure as the highest ranking uniformed officer in the Suffolk County Police Department, James Burke considered himself untouchable. He abused his authority by brazenly assaulting a handcuffed prisoner, he pressured subordinates to lie to cover up his criminal acts, and he attempted to thwart the civil rights investigation into his conduct,” stated United States Attorney Capers. “With today’s sentence, Burke learned that no one is above the law and that the consequences for such egregious behavior are severe.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney stated, “Burke’s abuse of power and efforts to obstruct justice not only threatened to undermine the integrity of a federal investigation, but also the reputation of all the Suffolk County police officers who value the laws they are sworn to uphold. As evidenced by today’s sentence, Burke, and others, are reminded that this type of behavior won’t go unpunished.”
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 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 were 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 Fourth 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 government’s case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Long Island Criminal Section. 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)