The two men at the center of high-profile police brutality cases that happened to converge on the same day last week spoke out Monday about deep-seated fear of the police and how their individual cases, while very different, paint a portrait of troubling allegations within law enforcement.
Christopher Loeb, 29, of Smithtown, whose accusations that former Suffolk County Police Chief of Department James Burke beat him inside the Fourth Precinct station house while he was chained, led to a federal indictment against Burke, who pleaded not guilty at his initial court hearing on Wednesday. On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler sided with federal prosecutors and held Burke without bail. Burke retired in October.
While Burke’s case is only beginning, the brutality case involving 22-year-old Kyle Howell concluded Friday with the acquittal of Nassau County Police Officer Vincent LoGiudice. The judge in that case ruled that surveillance footage capturing the Howell’s traffic stop and the altercation that followed was not enough to prove that LoGiudice acted maliciously. Another officer involved in the incident was not charged.
The two men were brought together Monday by their Garden City-based attorney Amy Marion, who represents both men in separate civil lawsuits.
“I’m happy he’s behind bars. He deserves whatever time he gets,” Loeb said, referring to Wexler remanding Burke pending trial. “What he did was completely wrong, what he did to me.”
“Everything I said—word for word—is coming out,” he told reporters in Uniondale.
Howell, who remained mostly stone-faced during Monday’s press conference, expressed disappointment in the verdict.
“I was pulled over by two Nassau county police officers who beat me with their fists, a flash light and kneed me in the face,” said Howell, who required multiple surgeries to repair a fractured sinus and badly damaged eye socket. “After I was assaulted, I did what I thought I was supposed to do. I spoke with the prosecutors, told them the truth and testified in court. But a judge said she believed the police who beat me and said I lied. But I didn’t—I told the truth.”
Howell was originally arrested for assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, tampering with evidence, possession of cocaine and marijuana, speeding and driving with a broken windshield before the charges were dropped.
Marion, who criticized both the judge’s decision and the Nassau District Attorney’s handling of the Nassau case, repeated her calls for federal investigators to examine LoGiudice’s actions. She also asked for a state court to re-open its suppression hearing in the wake of Burke’s arrest so the court could consider whether it’s appropriate to vacate Loeb’s conviction.
For Marion, decisions in both cases on Friday spurred conflicted feelings. On one hand, after a three-year investigation, Burke was arrested for allegedly beating her client and covering it up. Just minutes earlier the same day, officer LoGiudice was acquitted, prompting Howell’s supporters to yell “No justice, no peace” as they walked out of the courtroom in protest after the verdict was announced.
“What they both have in common is they were both individuals who committed petty offenses in the world of criminal defense,” Marion said. “These are not high felony crimes…we are talking about a bag of marijuana and a bag in a car.”
Howell’s case came amid a wave of police brutality cases nationwide that have highlighted distrust between minority communities and law enforcement.
“We all know race definitely comes into play and its also a huge problem that whether or not you want to say race didn’t come into play, that’s fine, it says to me that the federal prosecutor’s office is the one that should be prosecuting these cases and looking at these cases,” Marion said.
Loeb spent three years in prison after pleading guilty to burglarizing several cars in Suffolk, one of which was Burke’s department-issued SUV. Taken from the SUV was Burke’s duffel bag, which contained Burke’s gun belt, ammunition, sex toys and pornography—the latter of which served as the motivation for the assault on Loeb, federal prosecutors said.
Police swarmed Loeb’s mother’s home in Smithtown in December 2012 and took him into custody. Federal prosecutors said Burke entered the house and retrieved the duffel bag—an unusual occurrence, prosecutors said, given Burke’s status as a victim in the case. Burke then entered the interrogation room where Loeb was held and allegedly beat him. Afterward, prosecutors said, he used his power to silence any witnesses and pressured one detective to lie under oath.
Although their shared experiences have not caused them to hate the police, Loeb and Howell said, they remain wary of law enforcement’s motives.
“I’m concerned for me and my mother’s safety,” Loeb said. “Chief Burke is a very powerful man, he’s got a lot of connections in Suffolk County, Nassau County, Long Island…I worry for my mother every day I worry for me, and I look over my shoulder everywhere I go…I don’t feel comfortable in Suffolk County.”
Howell echoed the sentiment.
“It’s not that I hate police officers or anything but there’s definitely some police officers that are bad and that are doing crimes and they’re not being punished for it,” Howell said. “I’m scared sometimes when I’m driving or in the car and the police are behind me. And I’m just scared that I don’t know what they can do next.”