Former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison on Wednesday for beating a handcuffed robbery suspect during a 2012 interrogation, violating that man's civil rights. The suspect had been accused of stealing a duffle bag from Burke's sports utility car that happened to contain sex toys and pornography. Burke's efforts to cover up the incident and keep his personal items private also landed him a conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice charge.
"I feel Mr. Burke acted as a dictator," said U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler. Summarizing the coverup efforts, he added, “He also did bad if you were not on his side. That’s corruption.”
Wednesday's sentencing came 11 months after Burke's December 2015 arrest, and a year after his resignation from the Suffolk County police department. "Wearing a badge is a privilege and honor—not a license to exact retribution and corrupt the administration of justice," U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said following the arrest.
Burke, who pleaded guilty in February, beat robbery suspect Christopher Loeb on December 14, 2012, according to court filings. Loeb, a heroin addict who often broke into and robbed parked cars, was arrested that day and taken into police custody for questioning. Ahead of the questioning, Burke was given permission to enter Loeb's mother's home and retrieve the items stolen from his car, according to the Eastern District U.S. Attorney's office. A December release from that office continues:
Burke entered the interrogation room where Loeb was handcuffed and chained to an eyebolt fastened to the floor. Burke then allegedly punched and kicked Loeb in the head and body.
According to prosecutors, Loeb called Burke a pervert, referencing the porn inside the duffel bag. This prompted the assault, which went on until one detective allegedly said, "Boss, that's enough, that's enough."
The attack prompted Burke's extensive coverup efforts. According to the DA's office, Burke pressured the detectives who witnessed the incident to lie under oath. The FBI opened an investigation in 2013. According to the NY Times, it took federal investigators two years to collect testimony from 10 police officers.
As police chief, Burke had a reputation for vice. From the NY Times:
A cigar-smoking raconteur, Mr. Burke also ran his police department, with about 2,300 officers, in a manner at odds with the latest police management journals. In one recent legal filing, prosecutors say his office “was repurposed into a makeshift bar which was open every night for ‘drinks.’” Mr. Burke also had subordinates “conduct surveillance” on his girlfriend or his girlfriend's exes, prosecutors claimed in the legal filing.
Loeb was present in court on Wednesday, and CBS reports that he locked eyes with Burke. "You abused your power, and I will never again feel safe living in Suffolk County," he said, adding, "your abuse of power and the public's trust is appalling."
"My client is going to do his time like a man, and he's going to come out and be a productive member of society," Burke's attorney, John Meringolo, told reporters. With time served, Burke will be out in 35 months.