Ex-Suffolk County chief James Burke pleads guilty

A former police chief of Suffolk County, Long Island has pleaded guilty to charges of violating a suspect's civil rights and obstructing a federal civil rights investigation, FOX 5 NY has learned.

James Burke, 51, was accused of beating a heroin addict who had been arrested after stealing a duffel bag from the chief's department-issued SUV parked in front of Burke's home.

The charges also allege Burke enlisted nearly a dozen officers and detectives in the obstruction of justice by covering up the alleged crime. Indeed, prosecutors said at least 11 current or former police officers testified before the grand jury that indicted Burke.

He could serve up to 51 months prison. A sentencing date has not been set.

In December 2015, the former chief of one of the country's largest local law enforcement agencies was arrested by federal agents at his Long Island home.

U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said Burke influenced officers in his department to lie about what happened inside a police station. 

"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," Capers said in a statement. "Our investigation is ongoing, and we will seek to hold accountable anyone who violates another's civil rights or attempts to obstruct justice."

Burke initially was investigated by the FBI in 2013 on suspicion that he may have abused a man suspected of stealing a gun belt, ammunition and handcuffs from his department issued vehicle.

Christopher Loeb of Smithtown was arrested after the break-in and later pleaded guilty to a weapons charge.

Loeb claims he was assaulted initially at his home by officers and subsequently at the precinct, where he was beaten by Burke and other officers.

Before Burke was named chief, he worked as an investigator for the Suffolk County district attorney.

The Suffolk County Police Department, with 2,434 officers, is among the country's 15 largest departments. It has responsibility for patrolling much of eastern Long Island, although the Hamptons and several other towns also have local police departments that patrol those areas.

Burke's October resignation was followed last month by the retirement of Police Commissioner Edward Webber. Several other top-ranking officers, including the chief of detectives, also have retired in recent weeks. 

With the Associated Press