CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. – The former chief of a suburban New York police department accused of beating a suspect in a precinct interrogation room and then coercing officers to lie about it was ordered held without bail Friday.
James Burke, the former chief of police in Suffolk County on Long Island, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of deprivation of civil rights and conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice. Prosecutors said Burke, who could face more than five years in prison if convicted, took revenge against a man who stole sex toys, pornography and other items from his department-issued SUV.
"Quite frankly, I find the corruption of an entire department by this defendant is shocking," U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler said. He ruled the 51-year-old former police chief was a danger to the community and said there were no acceptable conditions that would allow him to be released.
Prosecutors said in a letter to the judge that Burke also threatened to kill the suspect with a heroin overdose and "went out of control" — punching, screaming and cursing — after the suspect called him a "pervert."
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."
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.
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.
Wexler had previously indicated he intended to close Friday's hearing to the public. He said he had received a letter from an attorney for several news organizations, including The Associated Press, voicing opposition.
Wexler said his intent was to protect Burke's rights to a fair trial, but subsequently ruled the hearing open after reviewing case law and other material.