Bail has been denied for former Suffolk County police chief James Burke, who was indicted this week for allegedly assaulting and violating the civil rights of a man arrested for breaking into the officer's department-issued vehicle in 2012. The two-count indictment also charges Burke with conspiracy to obstruct a federal civil rights investigation into the attack on Christopher Loeb.
In denying his bail Friday, U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler agreed with prosecutors who had argued that the 51-year-old Burke was a danger to the community for a long-running pattern of behavior that involved trying to "create a climate of fear to protect his interests" as he led one of the nation's largest police forces.
"Quite frankly, I find the corruption of an entire department by this defendant is shocking," Wexler said.
Nancy Bartling, one of Burke's attorneys, had argued there was no evidence alleging Burke was a danger to the community or a threat "to further obstruct any investigation."
Burke, 51, showed little emotion during the hearing. He was arrested by authorities early Wednesday, less than a day after NBC 4 New York first reported he would federal charges in connection with Loeb's Dec. 14, 2012 arrest.
According to the grand jury indictment and court filings, New York State Probation Department and Suffolk County officers arrested Loeb, now 28, at his mother's home in Smithtown for a variety of probation violations and, during the course of that arrest, discovered a large cache of merchandise stolen from more than a dozen vehicles, including Burke's department-issued SUV. A duffel bag stolen from Burke's car, which had been parked outside his home at the time of the theft, contained his gun belt, ammunition, a box of cigars and a canvas bag with toiletries, clothing and other items.
Burke was allowed to enter Loeb's home while the search of the suspect's residence was underway to retrieve his belongings, then drove to the stationhouse where Loeb was being interrogated, the indictment says. According to court documents, Burke walked into the interrogation room where Loeb was handcuffed and chained to an eyebolt fastened to the floor, then allegedly punched and kicked Loeb in the head and body.
Burke and others then allegedly pressured the detectives who witnessed the attack to cover it up, according to the indictment. The alleged conspiracy to conceal the attack continued even after the FBI and U.S. Attorney's office opened an investigation into the case in May 2013, court papers say.
Prosecutors claimed in a letter obtained by The Associated Press before it was deleted from the public record that Burke repeatedly abused his power and authority prior to Wednesday's arrest.
They say he used a GPS device in 2013 to snoop on a high-ranking civilian police department official he disliked and covered up his drunken driving accident in 2011.
They contend his conduct worsened after he learned federal authorities were investigating him in connection with the Loeb arrest.
Burke pleaded not guilty at an arraignment in federal court earlier this week.
He resigned in October amid new developments in the federal investigation. His resignation led to shakeup in the police department, with some high-ranking officials announcing their retirements. Police Commissioner Edward Webber has announced his retirement effective Jan. 23, and Chief of Detectives William Madigan also announced he'll be retiring.