CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) – The former chief of one of the country’s largest local law enforcement agencies was arrested Wednesday on charges he took revenge against a man who broke into his SUV by beating the suspect – and then plotted to cover it up.
Former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke was arrested by federal agents at his Long Island home to face charges of violating the man’s rights and conspiracy. He was awaiting an afternoon court appearance.
U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said Burke influenced officers in his department to lie about what happened inside a police station. The prosecutor told reporters to “stay tuned” on whether further arrests were possible.
Burke’s attorney, Joseph Conway, denied the allegations and said Burke looks forward to his defense.
Burke had been under scrutiny for years over the allegations. He resigned from the force in October.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who appointed Burke in 2012, confirmed in October that Burke’s departure was related to a renewed federal investigation.
Burke initially was investigated by the FBI in 2013 on suspicion that he may have abused the man, who was suspected of stealing a gun belt, ammunition and handcuffs from Burke’s department-issued vehicle.
Christopher Loeb had been arrested after someone broke into the chief’s department-issued SUV in 2012. Loeb later pleaded guilty to a weapons charge.
Loeb, who has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Burke and the department, claims he was assaulted initially at his home by officers and subsequently at the precinct, where he said he was beaten by Burke and other officers.
Capers said Burke, even while under investigation, met with officers involved with Loeb’s arrest “to agree on ways to get their stories straight.”
“And by getting their stories straight I mean having everybody agree on a story that in some way hid the fact that Burke assaulted Loeb,” he added.
He added that Burke influenced an officer to testify under oath that Burke did not assault Loeb. That officer was not immediately identified, nor was it clear whether the officer may face charges.
Loeb’s attorney, Amy Marion, said in a statement that her client will continue to cooperate with investigators. “We are gratified that this long overdue prosecution has begun and we look forward to seeing that justice is done,” she said.
Burke was charged with deprivation of civil rights and conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice. Capers said he could face more than five years in prison if convicted.
Before Burke was named chief, he worked as an investigator for the Suffolk County district attorney. The DA’s office did not immediately comment.
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, although the Hamptons and several other towns also have local police departments that patrol those areas.
Burke’s October resignation was followed last month by the retirement of Police Commissioner Edward Webber. Several other top-ranking officers, including the chief of detectives, also have retired in recent weeks.