U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler ordered James Burke, the ex-Suffolk County police chief of department, held without bail after Burke was indicted this week on charges of allegedly beating a suspect.
Burke’s defense attorney argued that the ex-chief should be freed on bail because he no longer wields any power since he retired last month, but Wexler sided with prosecutors, who said that the former top uniformed Suffolk police officer can’t be trusted.
“The evidence is clear: he still has the power,” Wexler said during the hearing Friday at Central Islip federal court. Calling the evidence “shocking,” the judge said there is “no way he can be supervised to a degree where he’s not a danger” to the community.
Wexler added that he found “The corruption of an entire department by this defendant shocking.”
Burke pleaded not guilty Wednesday to violating the suspect’s civil rights and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Federal investigators have alleged that Burke assaulted and threatened to kill Christopher Loeb, who stole a bag from Burke’s SUV, while Loeb was in police custody at the Fourth Precinct station house on Dec. 12, 2012. Burke also allegedly coerced police who witnessed the incident to lie to federal investigators about what they saw.
Burke’s lawyer, Joseph Conway, maintained that his client had no “ability to intimidate.” But prosecutor James Miskiewicz argued that the “evidence is overwhelming.”
Prosecutors said that while in an interrogation room, Burke punched and kicked Loeb, grabbed him by his ears, shook him and said “do you want to steal from me?” Burke also allegedly threatened to give Loeb, a heroin addict, a “hot shot”—slang for a fatal overdose of the drug, Miskiewicz said.
Authorities said the items that Loeb later pleaded guilty to stealing was Burke’s motivation. The bag contained Burke’s gun belt, ammunition, a box of cigars, a humidor, toiletries, clothing, sex toys and pornography. Miskiewicz said it was the porn that was Burke’s “motivation for beating the hell out of Loeb.”
After the hearing Conway told reporters that he and Burke are disappointed in the ruling, “but his spirits are high.”
“We may have lost a battle today but there’s still a war to be fought,” said Conway, who added that he will consider appealing the decision.
Wexler, who initially granted Conway’s request that the bail hearing be closed to the public, later reversed the decision and acknowledged it was a bad call after several media organizations challenged the ruling.
“I realize I was in error granting a closed hearing,” Wexler said.
-With Timothy Bolger