Suffolk County, NY — James Burke, formerly the Chief of one of the largest police departments in the country, found himself handcuffed and facing federal civil rights charges on December 9th, reports the New York Times. Burke’s arrest follows a lengthy investigation into allegations of torture, assault, subornation of perjury, and corruption in a case involving convicted thief Christopher Loeb. The confessed larcenist’s illicit haul included a duffel bag containing some of Burke’s property, including handguns, ammunition, mace, and what Loeb described as a stash of “nasty porn” and “sex toys.”
In 2012, Loeb was charged with breaking into several cars in Saint James, Long Island. One of the cars belonged to then-Chief Burke, who personally arrested Loeb and took him to the Suffolk County Fourth County Precinct. After attaching his handcuffs to a six-inch chain anchored in the floor of his cell, four officers took turns beating the suspect for about fifteen minutes before Burke entered the room and took over from where they had left off.
Chief Burke “grabbed me by my cheeks,” Loeb recalled. “He took his thumb and four fingers and squeezed my face [then] he punched me right above my hairline.” According to prosecutors, Burke beat the captive so severely that at one point detectives in the room begged him to “knock it off.”
Burke cared not about Loeb’s desperate plea for an attorney. Loeb recalled that the Chief gloatingly told him that “no one will ever f*****g believe me because I’m a convicted felon and a dope head.” After Loeb, referring to the stash of porn and sex toys, complained that the Chief was a “pervert,” Burke gave full rein to his rage — first threatening to murder Loeb through a “hot shot” — a lethal dose of heroin — and then escalating the abuse to potentially lethal torture.
“Have you ever been choked out before?” Burke taunted the bleeding and traumatized suspect, according to Loeb’s testimony in a federal preliminary hearing last month. The Chief then applied a chokehold, whispering in Loeb’s ear: “I’m going to rape your f*****g mother.”
“That’s the last thing I remember,” Loeb testified. “I passed out.”
After a civil rights inquiry was opened into Loeb’s allegations, Burke brow-beat the officers who had been involved in the December 2012 incident to lie to federal investigators. He also induced one of the detectives to perjure himself on the witness stand during Loeb’s pre-trial hearing by denying that Burke had assaulted the suspect while in custody.
Much of the conversation between Burke and Loeb, prior to the latter being rendered unconscious, focused on the “nasty porn” that was in the stolen duffel bag. The testimony of an officer who searched Loeb’s home confirmed that a stolen duffel bag had been recovered during a search, but the pornography wasn’t placed into evidence.
Possession of conventional pornography — moral objections to its content aside – is not a crime. Chief Burke’s background suggests that he might have cause for concern about his preferred vices.
In 1995, then-Sergeant James Burke was romantically involved with a convicted prostitute and drug dealer named Lowrita Rickenbacker. She had been repeatedly arrested in the precinct over which Burke presided, but during an internal affairs inquiry, Burke insisted that he had no knowledge of her criminal record.
Investigators determined that Burke had engaged in sex acts with the prostitute in his patrol car, and on one occasion left her alone in the vehicle with his gun and service weapon, according to Pix11 News.
No discipline resulted from the years-long internal affairs probe into Burke’s misconduct. Instead, in 2000, he was promoted to Lieutenant, before being named chief of detectives in 2002 and rising to become Suffolk County Police Chief ten years later. This happened despite the fact that “everybody knew he’s a bad guy,” according to former NYPD detective and Suffolk County resident Peter Fiorillo. “They [Suffolk County police officials] wanted to do something [about Burke’s corruption and abuse of power] and it never worked, because he’s too connected.”
Burke’s powerful partisans continued the pretense that he was an honorable public servant even after he was compelled to resign in October.
In keeping with the familiar convention, Burke claimed that his resignation was for “personal and family reasons,” rather than the accumulating allegations of criminal misconduct. His attorney insisted that the sudden retirement at the end of “a stellar and courageous career” was “unrelated to any speculation of a federal investigation.”
Police Commissioner Edward Webber struck a similarly unconvincing pose.
“Chief of Department James C. Burke … is one of the most outstanding supervisors, investigators, and trainers in the history of the Suffolk County Police Department,” pretended Webber in a press release following the Chief’s resignation. “I thank him for his many years of dedicated service to the people of Suffolk County.”
Burke’s abuse of power in the service of his own interests led to federal charges of assault and obstructing a civil rights investigation. Two other officers involved in the conspiracy, Criminal Intelligence detectives Anthony Leto and Kenneth Bombace, have resigned, as well. There’s reason to suspect that the corruption has metastasized too deeply to be cured through the surgical removal of one abusive chief and two sycophantic detectives: “The potential for indictments in Suffolk County could go high up the masthead, according to sources knowledgeable of the investigation,” reported Pix11 News.
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