After pleading guilty to violating a handcuffed suspect’s civil rights and conspiring to obstruct a federal investigation, a former New York police chief was sentenced Wednesday to 46 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Assaulting the suspect for stealing pornographic items from his department-issued vehicle, the police chief then coerced his detectives into covering up the incident.
Arrested for multiple parole violations on December 14, 2012, Christopher Loeb was taken into custody at his mother’s house on Long Island. A subsequent search of the house revealed a large cache of merchandise stolen from over a dozen vehicles, including a Suffolk County Police Department-issued SUV operated by then-Police Chief James Burke.
According to court documents, Loeb had stolen Burke’s gun belt, several magazines of ammunition, a box of cigars, a humidor, and a canvas bag containing toiletries, clothing, sex toys, and a porn video from the police chief’s department-issued vehicle. As Burke was allowed to retrieve the items from the scene, Loeb had been transported to the SCPD’s Fourth Precinct where detectives began interrogating him. Handcuffed and chained to a bolt in the floor, Loeb found himself completely helpless when Burke entered the interrogation room before striking Loeb in the torso and head.
After reportedly threatening to kill Loeb, Burke convinced the detectives who witnessed the unprovoked beating to give false statements in order to protect the volatile police chief. In October 2013, one of those detectives falsely testified under oath in a pretrial hearing, denying that Loeb had been assaulted.
“During his tenure as the highest ranking uniformed officer in the Suffolk County Police Department, James Burke considered himself untouchable,” stated U.S. Attorney Robert Capers. “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.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney Jr. 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.”
Charged with violating Loeb’s civil rights and obstructing the federal investigation into the assault, Burke was arrested on December 9, 2015. Two months later, the former police chief pleaded guilty to both charges while refusing to cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating further potential corruption within the Suffolk County Police Department.
Sentencing Burke to 46 months in prison and three years on supervised release on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler referred to the former police chief as a “dictator” and declared, “If you’re good to him, he’ll be good to you. He also did bad. That’s corruption.”