Former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke Pleads Guilty to Obstruction, Civil Rights Charges

The former Long Island police who beat a suspect and then coerced officers to lie has pleaded guilty to civil rights and obstruction of justice charges.

Former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke, 51, admitted to attacking a man arrested on suspicion of breaking into his department-issued SUV in an interview room, then coercing fellow officers to cover up the crime once federal officials opened up a civil rights probe into the case. 

Burke is expected to face four years behind bars as part of the deal, which won't force him to cooperate in any other federal cases. 

"He deeply regrets not being forthright," one of his attorneys, Nancy Bartling, said after the court proceeding.

Another of Burke's attorneys, Joseph Conway, said he expects the U.S. Attorney's office to announce that other officers involved in the beating also have pleaded guilty. "There were other individuals, as he said, that were in the room with him and those are the individuals he conspired with," Conway said. He did not elaborate.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office declined comment on Conway's comments. When he announced Burke's arrest in December, U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said "stay tuned" on whether further arrests were possible.

In a letter arguing against bail for Burke, who has been jailed since his arrest, prosecutors said the former chief was exacting revenge on a man who broke into his 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.

Prosecutors wrote that Burke "went out of control" after the handcuffed suspect called him a "pervert," during an interrogation — punching, screaming and cursing, and threatening to kill the suspect with a heroin overdose.

They said at least 11 current or former police officers and detectives — who had remained silent about the beating for years — testified before the grand jury that indicted Burke.

The suspect in the SUV theft, Christopher Loeb, pleaded guilty to a weapons charge and was sentenced to three years in prison. He was released last summer. He has filed a lawsuit seeking damages from Burke and the police department.

"I am happy with today's guilty plea and I know Chris is as well," said Loeb's attorney, Bruce Barket; Loeb is currently incarcerated on unrelated charges. "I think the message is that Suffolk County's law enforcement community has operated as if they are judge, jury and executioner. Those days are coming to an end."

Burke could have faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the conspiracy charge at trial. His sentencing has not yet been scheduled.

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.

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 announced his retirement, and Chief of Detectives William Madigan also announced he'd be retiring. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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